The final game of Jackson Post 43’s home tournament last week never got underway. With a cold rain falling on Giants Field Friday night, Jackson and the Idaho Falls Bandits played to the 10th inning, when the visitors finally broke the 6-6 deadlock with an eight-run outing to put the game away.
The Giants (15-8) were schedule to take on Cheyenne Post 6 following that game, but it was called off, leaving Jackson with a 2-2 record over the week with some of the highest-level competition they’ll see ahead of the postseason.
“We had great games,” manager Jason Huggins said. “Honestly, playing the teams we played was like championship-level baseball all the way around.”
Jackson opened last Wednesday against American Legion World Series returner Mountain View (Meridian, Idaho), falling 9-7.
The Giants bounced back in the second game against the Toros on Thursday, running away with an 8-2 victory. Jackson fell behind 2-0 midway through the second inning before scoring four runs in the bottom of the frame. From there the Giants tacked on runs through the rest of the game while holding Mountain View scoreless. Anthony Bleggi went 4-for-4 from the plate and teammate Rowan Bruno drove in two RBIs in the win.
From the hill, 15-year-old Benny Zarate pitched a complete game for the win. The underclassman threw 41 pitches through the first two innings before settling in. Over the final five innings he threw just 41 more pitches to cruise to the victory.
“He found his groove and went to work,” Huggins said. “His first two innings he’s trying to strike everyone out. I pulled him aside and said, ‘Trust your defense. When you pitch, the best defense is behind you.’”
Thursday proved to be the best day for the Giants. After avenging the loss to Mountain View, Jackson upended Cheyenne 5-3 to move to 2-1 so far this season against the perennial Wyoming power.
Jackson held a 3-0 lead heading into the fourth, when Cheyenne leveled the score with a three-run outing. In the fifth inning, Jackson tacked on two more runs and held Cheyenne scoreless the rest of the way.
Seth Christiansen led the way with a pair of hits and three RBIs, while Anthony Bleggi pitched six innings, recording 13 strikeouts. Younger brother Parker Bleggi entered in the final inning, closing out the game with two strikeouts of his own.
“They threw their ace, and we threw ours,” Huggins said. “That felt like a state championship-type game.”
It felt like a state championship-type game because those sides very well could meet for the title come end of July.
For senior Gus Armijo the potential for the Jackson side is a far cry from the team he remembers as a freshman.
“You always knew we were going to get 10-runned [by Cheyenne],” he said. “They were like the giant of Wyoming. … Now we’ve beaten Gillette, could have beat Casper, we beat Cheyenne and we’ve beaten some really good teams from Idaho. It feels like we’ve got a really good team this year.”
It’s too early to mock up brackets for the AA state tournament, but as Huggins sees it there are four teams capable of taking the state title and making a run toward the Legion World Series. It’s Gillette (39-6), Cheyenne (21-6), Casper (15-8-1) and Jackson.
“We’re so evenly matched,” he said. “It’s definitely fun. There is great, great baseball in Wyoming.”
Next for the Giants is a home stand against Riverton tonight before traveling to Rexburg, Idaho to take on the East Idaho Rockies on Saturday.
Armijo said this next week will be all about overcoming complacency after a few-week stretch that saw Jackson playing up to some of the best competition the region has to offer.
“We just have to keep doing what we do,” he said. “We have to play our game and not drop to lower levels.”