Jets stumble in two-game series with top-ranked Randleman

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/16/21

SILER CITY — The Jets hadn’t seen a team quite like Randleman. And it showed.

Its offense is built like a high-powered machine, churning out runs at a consistent pace, chipping away, …

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Jets stumble in two-game series with top-ranked Randleman

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Posted

SILER CITY — The Jets hadn’t seen a team quite like Randleman. And it showed.

Its offense is built like a high-powered machine, churning out runs at a consistent pace, chipping away, inning-by-inning, at any hopes opponents have at keeping up.

Randleman’s defense — pitching and fielding included — is also a daunting force to face, protecting home plate as if it were the most valuable item on earth.

And even if you’re a 3-1 Jordan-Matthews team that’s responsible for scoring 50 runs in four games, hanging with a high-scoring, hard-to-hit Tigers squad is a tough task.

In their 13-1 loss to Randleman on Tuesday night — and a subsequent 8-1 defeat in the rematch on Thursday — the Jets learned that the hard way.

“They’re the number two team in the state for a reason, that’s what happens when you have freshmen and sophomores playing against juniors and seniors,” said John Headen, the Jets’ head coach after Tuesday’s matchup. “We tried to keep them off pace and it was good experience for our youth to try and figure that out because we want to be in the same place that they’re in and there’s only one way to get there.”

Since defeating the Jets twice last week, the Tigers have moved up to the top-ranked spot in MaxPreps’ 2A baseball rankings, holding strong to a 6-0 record. They’re ranked 12th amongst all classifications in North Carolina, second in the NCHSAA.

In six games, they’ve allowed a total of six runs. They’ve scored 58.

They have two juniors — Brooks Brannon and Trey Way — who are already committed to play for two different ACC schools in 2022-23: Brannon to North Carolina and Way to Virginia Tech. They’re bound to have a few more players make college rosters in the next couple of years, too.

In short, Randleman is a team rich with talent and in the midst of one of the best seasons of any team in the state. J-M’s struggles against its PAC-7 conference rival are no surprise.

On Tuesday, those struggles reared their ugly heads early as Randleman took control in the top of the first inning.

J-M sophomore starting pitcher Jackson Headen (1.1 IP, 4 H, 7 ER, 3 BB) put himself in a jam from the get-go, walking the Tigers’ first two batters and allowing a single by sophomore Hunter Atkins to load the bases with Brannon — the team’s clean-up hitter — up to bat.

He used his plate appearance to drive in a run on a sac fly, giving the Tigers an early 1-0 advantage, but it was junior Braylen Hayes who dug an even deeper hole for the Jets, doubling to left field and clearing the bases to put his team ahead, 3-0, in the first.

Hayes had himself a perfect night at the plate, going 4-for-4 with four RBI, including two singles, a double and a home run as the Tigers’ main source of offensive production. He was a triple away from hitting for the cycle.

In total, Hayes reached base five times on Tuesday (four hits, one hit-by-pitch), the same amount as the entire J-M roster.

“I think our pitchers were just trying to strike people out early instead of just pitching to good zones,” Headen said. “These are good hitters and good hitters are going to take advantage of that.”

It didn’t matter what type of pitch was thrown at them or who was throwing it, the Tigers’ hitters were going to make contact.

J-M used five pitchers against Randleman, with all but Headen throwing an inning or less. Four allowed at least two runs, while three of them gave up a home run.

In the third inning, the Tigers’ power began to shine through, with the Virginia Tech-bound Way — who also pitched the last three innings for Randleman — hitting a long ball that narrowly floated over the left-field wall for a lead-off home run off of J-M freshman pitcher Brian Johnson.

A couple of batters later, after Jets junior Brenden Rivers took over the pitching duties, Hayes hit a booming shot to left field for a two-RBI homer, which gave the Tigers a 10-0 lead and officially put J-M on mercy-rule watch.

While the Tigers had no issue putting up runs, the Jets never managed to go on a run of their own.

All three of J-M’s hits came in the bottom of the third inning, where a string of three straight singles allowed the Jets to finally get on the board.

J-M catcher Carson Whitehead singled on a hard-hit line drive to short, but an errant throw to first allowed him to slide safely into second base. On the ensuing at-bat, Rivers hit a ball to right-center field for a single, but the ball was dropped by the outfielder in an attempt to get it back into the infield, resulting in J-M sophomore Gavin Campbell (pinch-runner) getting across home plate on another error.

That wrapped up J-M’s scoring.

Jets senior Huston Causey singled immediately after, but senior Carson Rickman flew out on the following plate appearance. On the flyout, Rivers got caught in between second and third base and was tagged out, ending the inning on a double play and stranding two runners with his team down 10-1.

“I think when we had opportunities to capitalize, we made some mistakes, whether it be on the base path or taking pitches we normally wouldn’t take,” Headen said. “I don’t know if it was nerves or what. These guys know when they’re playing against real competition, that could have had something to do with it.”

The Tigers tacked on another three runs — including a two-run homer in the fifth inning by junior Gus Shelton — before the game concluded in just five innings, marking the Jets’ largest loss of the season at 13-1.

Two days later, J-M found itself suffering another lopsided loss to Randleman, 8-1, to fall to 3-3 on the year after allowing 21 runs in two games.

With the Jets’ underclassman-heavy roster, however, games like these — against high-level competition — make for great experience for the team’s younger players.

“We have to make sure that they play and get as many reps as possible,” Headen said. “In our hunt, the next two weeks are games that can prepare us to make the playoffs. We’ll see how that shakes out.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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