Indians close in on title

Thursday, May 16, 2002

JACKSON, Mo. -- Thanks to a 16-hit barrage and the steady pitching of Austin McDowell, Jackson is just one victory away from its first district baseball championship in 10 years.

The top-seeded, host Indians (13-6) pounded fifth-seeded Poplar Bluff (8-17) 12-2 in Wednesday's first semifinal of the Class 4A, District 1 Tournament at Legion Field.

Second-seeded Farmington (15-8) defeated third-seeded Hillsboro (13-12) 6-4 in the other semifinal, setting up today's 5 p.m. title contest between Jackson and Farmington.

According to Jackson coach Sam Sides, the Indians have not been district champions since 1992. But senior catcher Brad Berry, the hitting star Wednesday, is hopeful that will change today.

"It feels good to be in the finals," Berry said. "If we keep hitting the ball like we have been, I like our chances."

Berry went 4-for-4 with two doubles. He also drove in four runs and scored twice.

"We've had our off games, but most of the year we've hit the ball good," Berry said.

Berry was not the only Indian who had a solid day at the plate. Michael Birk, Dusty Roberts, Trevor Thompson, Jake Carter and Josh Parham all added two hits as eight of Jackson's nine starters hit safely.

"We put the bat on the ball," Sides said. "I didn't think we hit the ball all that hard, but we hit it good enough. That's what we've been doing, putting the bat on the ball."

The offensive showing was more than enough for McDowell (5-3), a junior right-hander who fired a four-hitter, with seven strikeouts and one walk. Both Poplar Bluff runs were unearned.

"Austin has been pitching well the last several games," Sides said. "He's a finesse pitcher and his control has been really good lately."

McDowell came close to getting a shutout as the Indians led 10-0 entering the bottom of the sixth inning (Poplar Bluff was the home team on the scoreboard). Another scoreless frame for the Mules and the game would end on the 10-run mercy rule.

A Jackson error in the sixth -- its first miscue of the day -- led to a run as the Mules kept the contest going. Three more Jackson errors in the seventh accounted for the Mules' final run.

"I was a little disappointed I didn't get the shutout, but I still threw pretty good," McDowell said. "We're real excited to be in the finals. We're ready to go."

Sides said the way the Indians finished the game defensively was a bit disappointing, but he understood somewhat.

"I was pleased except for the last couple of innings, but we've been playing pretty good defense lately," he said. "I just think we lost our concentration with the big lead."

Jackson scored single runs in each of the first two innings, then chased Poplar Bluff starter Matt Atteberry in the third, when the Indians broke the game open with five runs. The Mules used five pitchers in the contest.

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