Panthers focus on playing well, not playoff pressureBy Stephen Dawkins Published 9:14pm Thursday, May 2, 2013
If you had stumbled upon the Jemison baseball team’s practice Wednesday, without knowing what the Panthers were practicing for, you wouldn’t have guessed the team was preparing for the third round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
It wasn’t that the players were making mistakes unexpected for a team that is one of only eight remaining in the playoffs. It was that, well, they were wearing Halloween costumes…in May…while practicing baseball.
The unusual practice attire (the players wore pajamas for practice one day leading up to their Round 2 series win at long-time nemesis Bibb County) is one of coach Jason Easterling’s tactics to keep his players from feeling the pressure of a situation that is unusual to Jemison baseball.
So far, it seems to be working.
“They seem the same right now to me,” Easterling said. “They seem loose and excited to be playing.”
Some nerves would be understandable because these Panthers have advanced farther in the playoffs than anyone at the school Thursday could remember.
A pep rally was held–complete with cheerleaders, the band, player introductions and a home run derby competition with the team’s seniors–to send the Panthers (19-15) on their way to Mobile, where they will take on UMS-Wright (26-10) at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series will be played at 7 p.m. Friday, and a third game, if necessary, would be played at noon on Saturday.
The trip could be seen as a poor reward for a team that perhaps was not expected to still be playing.
JHS has had to play each of its playoff games away from home this year, but Easterling said, though he isn’t sure why, his Jemison teams have fared better on the road.
“The road has been our friend,” Easterling said but added that it’s nice when Panthers fans show up in droves to make whatever field their playing on seem a little more like home. “We had a great crowd at Bibb County last week. We probably outnumbered them 3-to-1. We had a good crowd at Corner, too. That helps a lot.”
Close games have also been kind to Jemison: Of the Panthers’ four wins, three have been by one run, and in the other win JHS trailed until the seventh and final inning.
Easterling said his team’s refusal to quit has been the most important factor of its success.
“They believe they can win every time they step on the field,” he said. “That’s the biggest battle you can face. They’re not focused on who they’re playing, just focused on playing baseball.”
And a strong bond between the players has been perhaps the most significant factor in their attitude.
“This group is close-knit,” Easterling said. “I didn’t expect that with so many freshmen and such a mix of age groups. The chemistry has been at a different level.”