After cruising to a win in Game 1 of their Elite Eight series against Jeff Davis, 9-1, the Pepperell baseball team faced much tougher competition in Game 2 on Tuesday.
Their answer to that competition was Caleb Jackson.
Collecting five of the six Dragon RBIs by hitting two homers, Jackson lifted Pepperell to a 6-5 win that allowed the Dragons to sweep the series — and advance to the Class AA Final Four.
“I don’t know how to describe how it feels,” said Jackson about his team’s advancement to the semifinals. “We’ve worked all year long to get this point … and it feels great.”
Pepperell will play top-seeded Westminster at home in a best-of-three series that starts with a doubleheader on Monday to decide if the Dragons will be finals bound.
With Pepperell down 2-1 in Tuesday’s second game, Jackson’s first homer gave the Dragons a 3-2 edge — their first lead of the game — in the top of the fifth.
Jeff Davis answered quickly, scoring two runs to take a 4-3 lead in the sixth while holding Pepperell scoreless.
But the Dragons still had one more at-bat, and Jackson made sure the Dragons’ last chance didn’t go to waste.
With one out and two on base, Jackson nailed a three-run homer to earn the runs needed to boost Pepperell to the win.
“Without (two batters) getting on base and without those runners in scoring position, those two home runs wouldn’t have meant a thing,” said Jackson. “If it wasn’t for them it wouldn’t have mattered.”
His home run drove in brothers Zach and Nick Williams, who each had a base hit to set Jackson up for the three-run homer.
The Yellow Jackets scored one more run in the seventh before Jackson — who came on to pitch during the inning — locked down the final out to earn the save and clinch Pepperell’s spot in the semifinals.
“It’s a pretty amazing experience,” said Pepperell coach Wright Edge. “I’ve never had the privilege of doing anything like this. It feels real but not really, and it’s just amazing.”
Tyler Smith had the first RBI of Game 2 in the second inning.
Nick Williams had the win, pitching the first six innings, giving up nine hits, five runs and striking out four.
Jackson gave up two hits and struck out one in his save.
The big story in Game 1 was from the mound, rather than at the plate.
Smith recorded 12 strikeouts in just six innings to help the Dragons cruise to the lopsided win; Zach Williams closed out the win.
“I’ve said all year that all my pitchers have been absolutely lights out, (and it’s) totally what I expect,” said Edge.
The Dragons used a six-run rally in the second to build the early lead.
Bryce Adams went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a triple, Jackie Harwell had a two-run single, and Zach Williams, Bradley Adams, Jesse Gregory and Jackson had an RBI apiece.
Pepperell has now dropped only one game of their past 26, the loss coming from GAC in the first round of the state tourney.
Tuesday’s win brings Pepperell just one series win away from the finals, and the Dragons have the privilege of hosting both the Final-Four game and the championship game, given they advance.
“It feels great (to be able to host),” said Edge. “I enjoy it, because we don’t have to worry about travel or things like that. Also being here in front of our fans and school is awesome.”