SAUGET – Aaron Jackson put some sunshine on the shoulders of the rain-soaked Metro East Bears.
The Edwardsville High graduate, a SIUE recruit, did it all for the Bears, who beat Rockport, Ind., 5-2, Thursday in the American Senior Legion Great Lakes Regional.
Jackson spun a complete game and smacked a two-run home run as the 28-8 Bears prevailed at GCS Ballpark and sent 20-2 Rockport into the loser's bracket. Metro East was supposed to play the Indiana team Wednesday night at Hopkins Field in Moore Park, but wet weather washed out the baseball game and sent it to Sauget.
“We were so excited about playing Wednesday, but it was a rough night because we didn’t get to play,” Jackson said. “We had to tarp the field three times.”
They needed no tarp Thursday morning in snapping Rockport’s six-game winning string. Jackson’s two-run home run over the left field wall in the fifth inning stretched a slim lead to 4-1 and the Bears never looked back.
“That home run was the best feeling in the world,” Jackson said. “I love hitting home runs, but with college coming up, I knew it could be my last game pitching.”
So he pitched like it was his last game. Jackson threw 92 strikes in a strong 116-pitch outing. He struck out eight, walked one and permitted one earned run.
“That’s what we have seen from Aaron all year,” Metro East manager Ken Schaake said. “Pitching and defense are what wins games and we had good pitching and timely hitting.”
Jackson added, “I thought I struggled a little bit in the first inning, but after that, I was able to locate my pitches. It was such an advantage getting over my first pitch for a strike and that was the best slider I’ve ever had.”
Schaake said, “Most pitchers lead with their fastball, but Aaron is just as comfortable throwing breaking pitches.”
Teammate Matthew Zielonko contributed plenty to the cause. He went 2-for-3 with a run-scoring double in the second and reached base three times overall. In addition, the center fielder supplied the defensive play of the game.
He gunned out Rockport runner Jakob Shular at home plate to end the eighth inning and help the Bears maintain a two-run lead. Shular tried to score from second base on Sammy Rowan’s single to center, but Zielonko’s throw to catcher Nick Paulda nailed Shular.
“Matt came up big with his RBI double and his throw to the plate in cutting down their runner,” Schaake said. “He has a good arm.”
Zielonko noted, “I was able to make a good throw and I kept it low going to the plate. It was a huge play to turn the game around."
The Bears punched home an unearned run in the fourth and Mitchell Krebs chipped in with a run-scoring single in the eighth to complete their scoring. Shular’s two hits led Rockport and teammate Kolten Keown drove in a fourth-inning run with a sacrifice fly. Two Metro East errors enabled Rockport to score once in the eighth.
“We were ready to play today because we were biting at the bit to play Wednesday night,” Zielonko said. “Winning our first game is huge.”
Jackson agreed. “It makes a big difference when you win your first game.”
Ben Cusac likely will get the start for the Bears in their second game tonight. They return to Moore Park and take on Madison, Wis., at about 10 p.m. The winner of tonight’s late game is scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Friday, also at Moore.
The tourney continues Saturday and concludes Sunday, with the regional champion advancing to the Legion World Series next week in Shelby, N.C.
GREAT LAKES REGIONAL
METRO EAST 5, ROCKPORT 2
Rockport 001 000 010 – 2 7 2
Metro East 010 120 00 X – 5 7 2
Rockport (20-2) – Kobe Stephens 1-4, Spenser Deom 1-4, Tyler Scheider 1-4 3B, Jakob Shular 2-4 2B, Kolten Koewn 0-3 RBI, Sammy Rowan 2-4.
LP – Jan Stallings IP-7.1 H-6 R-5 ER-4 BB-3 K-11; Hunter Row IP-.2 H-1 R-0 BB-1 K-0
Metro East (28-8) – Drake Hampton 1-4, Jordan Hovey 1-3 2B, Aaron Jackson 1-3 HR RBI-2, Connor Melton 1-3, Matthew Zielonko 2-4 2B RBI, Mitchell Krebs 1-4 RBI.
WP – Aaron Jackson IP-9 H-7 R-2 ER-1 BB-1 K-8