While Blake Tekotte takes most of the spotlight during Hickman’s baseball games, Justin Jackson’s improved performance is often overlooked.
Jackson has hit .500 and surprised a lot of pitchers more worried about Tekotte, who hits in front of Jackson.
Jackson and the No. 1 seed Kewpies play in the district tournament at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hickman. The Kewpies will play the No. 4 Jefferson City/No. 5 Camdenton winner. They open the tournament at 5 p.m. today.
No. 3 Rock Bridge will play No. 2 Helias at 7 p.m. Tuesday, or soon after the Hickman games ends. The title game is at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Jackson improved his game last summer with the Midwest Prospects in St. Louis. Now that he has moved up in the order to the No. 3 and 4 spots, he said he has noticed pitchers are giving him more respect.
“I notice a difference a lot with how people pitch me,” Jackson said. “I got walked twice (Tuesday against Helias), and I didn’t really experience that last year.”
Recently, Jackson has taken over the starting job at third base after playing most of the season at catcher. The move allows regular third baseman Chad Hatcher to concentrate on pitching, and capable backup Nick Steponovich takes over behind the plate.
“It’s all right to get a break,” he said. “I’d like to catch a little bit to get geared up for the summer but as long as Nick does a good job we’ll be all right.”
Jackson has been a steady addition to the Kewpies’ infield, but said he is not as comfortable at third as he is catching.
“I still feel weird at third, and I’ve caught since I was nine, so I’m just used to it,” Jackson said. “I feel like I know what I’m doing (catching).”
Hickman coach Kent Fewell said he is confident Jackson will grow into his new position.
“Justin Jackson’s just taken over third base and he’s done a tremendous job there,” Fewell said. “He just gets better and better and he’s going to continue to get better and better.”
Jackson, who has five home runs and 25 RBIs, said his work over the summer was the biggest contributor in his offensive improvements.
“I think I’ve already pretty much doubled every category I could have from last year,” he said. “I’m not worrying as much; I’m just having fun.”
After playing with Tekotte with the Prospects last summer, Jackson is looking forward to another summer in St. Louis, and will join teammates Zach Heath, and Casey McIntosh and Andrew Mueller.
Quiet off the field, Jackson prefers to let seniors such as Eric Schultz and Jake Unger lead the team vocally. He said he is pleased the team has something to contribute to Hickman’s games.
“Everybody’s come together and Tekotte and I aren’t the only ones producing,” Jackson said. “The entire lineup’s hitting. It’s good to see us gel.”
The Kewpies could not have picked a better time to go on a hot streak. Hickman has won its past six heading into the district tournament.
Hickman is also responsible for two of Helias’ three losses.
“If we end up playing Helias we’ll have to beat them three games in a row,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we proved (Tuesday) that we deserve the No. 1 seed and we’ll just try to back that up.”
Rock Bridge coach Terry Whitney said he is pleased with the Bruins’ recent performance.
“I like the way we’re playing here at the end so that’s a good sign,” Whitney said.
Although Hickman’s success has hinged on pitching and defense, Rock Bridge depends heavily on its offense to support an often shaky defense.
“I think (offense is) the strength of our team,” Whitney said. “We’ve got to play a little better defense and I thinking we’re starting to play better defense.”
Fewell warned that all teams have a shot at this year’s district title.
“Camdenton beat us last year in the first game,” he said. “It’s going to be a dogfight no matter who we play on Tuesday.”