JACKSON TWP. It can be easy to forget in the scope of what Jackson baseball has accomplished the past five years.
Two state championships, multiple deep tournament runs and dozens of players able to springboard into college baseball thanks to their success for the Polar Bears make one of the first steps in the journey of each season easy to overlook.
But in the wake of clinching a fifth straight Federal League title, head coach Bill Gamble and the current iteration of the Polar Bears know that league title is a meaningful one, too.
"Clinching five straight outright Federal League titles is a credit to these seniors and the leadership of the team," Gamble said. "We have had a lot of moving parts this year and a very fluid lineup due to weather, injuries and players taking on new roles due to graduation."
This year’s seniors have their own collection of memories, experiences and players headed onward to the college level, just as previous senior classes have. One thing they don’t really have, according to Gamble, is a feeling of pressure to not be the class that allows the program to slip, either within the league or overall.
While the legacy of success Jackson has built on the diamond is all around them, the veteran coach and his staff want players to avoid lingering on their past, either successes or disappointments, or to feel like that past either entitles them to or should motivate them toward future accomplishments.
"This season's class learned a great deal from the 2017 and 2016 teams and seeing them step up to all the adversity and challenges... as a coaching staff we are very proud of them and what they have accomplished," Gamble said. "We do not dwell on the previous season ... we use it as experience on how we handle situations and moments, but there is so much competition in practice there is not much room or time to really concern ourselves with those types of thoughts."
Living in the present and breaking each game down into its smallest, most digestible bites is what has served the Polar Bears well in their recent run and the hope is that if each player does his job every time a pitch is thrown, then when there’s time to pause and look up at the scoreboard, the results will be there.
This season’s numbers speak to that fact, as a 21-5 start and 10-0 league mark have been enough to put Jackson well ahead of a league field in which every other team has at least two losses. While there five overall losses are more than has been the norm since the 2014 state championship season, playing the type of schedule that is a spring staple for the team with state-ranked opponents and few breathers is bound to produce a loss or two most years.
"We build a very challenging schedule each year to put us in those very competitive environments and try and expand our comfort zone so we can just focus on playing the game at fast pace and creating pressure," Gamble said. "We are constantly trying to create the most competitive atmosphere we can as a coaching staff and them coach our guys up as much as possible."
Pitching has been a strong point again this season, including allowing two combined runs in the team’s first two district tournament games, wins over Dover and Lake en route to yet another district title game, this one against Massillon. The Canton Division I bracket is deep again this season and making it to another district title contest is a feat in and of itself.
Same goes for the fifth consecutive Federal League championship that will find its place in the school’s packed trophy case. Whatever the net result for this season in terms of games won and how far the postseason extends, that league title is a point of pride for a program that has established a choke hold on the top spot in the standings and once again fended off all potential challengers.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB