JACKSON TWP.  Tennessee may not be a common spring break destination, but the Jackson softball team found plenty to enjoy in the Volunteer State during its annual spring break trip.

Treks south are commonplace for local high school teams during their respective spring breaks, both as a way to boost team chemistry and to get games in while the Northeast Ohio weather remains stuck in extended winter mode.

For the Polar Bears, a weeklong venture to the Cal Ripken Experience tournament in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., served as the opening salvo for a season they hope will extend well into May.

Second-year head coach Stacey Patterson and her team came back to Stark County with a winning record and, they hope, some momentum to carry into the rest of the season.

"It was awesome. The weather was beautiful and it was a great experience for us," Patterson said. "There was sun and the fields were all turf … we really enjoyed it and we stayed in a cabin for the week."

The cabin, which Patterson said had room for 30 people, was the team’s home base for the week as it took on foes from Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Jackson ended with the week with a 4-2 record and plenty of fun moments both on and off the field.

In the past, the program had traveled to places such as Myrtle Beach for spring break trips, but this was its first venture to Tennessee. Getting off to a good start in terms of wins and losses on such trips is nice, but as has been shown by many local teams over the years, an impressive spring break trip record can fade quickly under the spring sun in Ohio.

Due to differing levels of competition at such events and other factors, a team’s performance at a spring break tournament simply doesn’t provide an accurate forecast of how it will do over the course of the season.

The biggest takeaway from the trip, therefore, could be its impact on team chemistry and camaraderie. If the Polar Bears can build on the bonds they furthered during their trip, then it could set the tone for a winning remainder of their campaign.

"The team camaraderie was great. They never give up on each other and when they’re in the dugout, they’re rooting for each other on the field," Patterson said. "We have some seniors who are in tough roles and we didn’t know how every would adjust to their roles, but they’ve adjusted well and they really pick each other up."

While there were plenty of good individual performances on the trip, Patterson pointed to Sophia Bernard, Sam Petit, Anna Farrah and Liz Bara as four players who flashed a lot of promise during the week. Petit proved to be a rally starter for the offense, Bara had two game-winning hits and both Bernard and Farrah established themselves as bats to be counted on in the lineup.

What excited Patterson most about the group was its performance against opponents’ top pitchers. When teams threw their top starting pitcher at the Polar Bears, the second-year coach noted, the Jackson offense responded well. That wasn’t always the case last season, when the offense had a tough time against standout pitchers.

Should the trend of rising to the occasion against elite hurlers continue into league play, Jackson would have reason to feel good about its odds against the likes of Hoover, Green and the rest of the Federal League.

With freshmen and sophomores holding down a handful of spots in the lineup, it’s also a distinct possibility that there will be some growing pains along the way. Still, based on the results of their longest road trip of the season, the Polar Bears are off to a good start and assuming the weather allows them to get back on the field in the days ahead, they’ll have a chance to keep their hot start going before their bats cool off too much.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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