By Robert Wilson
Photos by Chris Todd

         Jackson Academy had senior night Tuesday night at Raider Park and each senior shared their favorite moment as a JA baseball player prior to the game.

Photo by Chris Todd

         Each of them has a new favorite moment, especially Joseph Ciaccio.

         The senior left fielder, who transferred from Jackson Prep after his sophomore year, had two of the three JA hits and helped JA surprise four-time defending MAIS state champion and No. 17 nationally ranked Prep 2-1 in the first game of a three-game Class 6A conference series.

         JA improved to 19-10 overall and 6-7 in conference play. It was the first time any of JA’s seniors had beaten Prep. JA had lost seven consecutive games to Prep and hadn’t won against Prep since the 2019 season.

         Prep – playing its third game without star freshman shortstop-pitcher Konnor Griffin – dropped to 25-6 and 10-3 and suffered its second consecutive loss.

         JA and Prep play the second and third games of the series Friday at Prep in Flowood to finish the regular season. Prep, which has clinched a bye in next week’s first round 6A playoff series, is now tied with MRA for first place. MRA defeated Hartfield 10-0 Tuesday night. JA and Hartfield are tied for third at 6-7.

The Jackson Academy Raiders baseball team hosted the Jackson Prep Patriots on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

         The win was especially sweet for Ciaccio, whose older brother Sam played at JA. Joseph Ciaccio transferred to back to JA when his mother, Cori, came back to JA from Prep to teach chemistry. The Ciaccios had transferred from JA to Prep five years ago.

         “I wanted to beat them so bad,” said Ciaccio, who signed with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. “I couldn’t ask for a better Senior Night. We all had that mindset. We have nothing to lose. We know these guys. We hang out with them on the weekends. But with me it was a little different. I went to school with them for a couple of years. I played with a lot of them growing up. (Prep senior right-hander and Mississippi State signee) Will (Gibbs) is a great pitcher and he pitched a great game. We were able to get the big hits.” 

         The biggest ones were in the sixth inning when JA took at 2-1 lead. Senior designated hitter and cleanup hitter JT Thigpen led off the inning with a walk then Ciaccio hit a single up the middle. Junior catcher Chandler Anderson hit into a fielder’s choice. With two outs, senior pitcher Cade Gadman hit a single to score Thigpen for the winning run.

         Gadman allowed eight hits and one run in 5 1/3 innings for the pitching victory and improve his record to 2-0 this season. Senior left-hander Grayson Lee pitched 1 2/3 innings of no hit relief. Grayson came in with one out in the sixth with runners on first and second. After a popout and a walk, Grayson caught grounder and threw to Anderson at the plate for a force play with the bases loaded for the third out.

“This was a great for our program and for this team, especially,” JA coach Parker Harris said. “These kids had never beaten Prep and we got that off our back tonight. The biggest thing is we talked about believing and getting these guys to believe that they can do it and last week beating MRA we started realizing we can play with these guys. Beating Gibbs, who one of the best pitchers in the state in my opinion, will give us even more confidence going into Friday’s games.

         “It was a total team effort. Joseph’s hits were huge. Cade had a great game, not only on the mound but he also made a great bunt on the squeeze play (when Anderson scored from third in the fourth inning for a 1-1 tie). (Senior right fielder) Dakota (Jordan) didn’t do much at the plate (0 for 3) but threw a guy out at third base for a double play (in the fifth inning). Chandler threw two guys out stealing and that was key, and (senior shortstop) Garrett (Smith) caught a line drive for a double play (in the third).”

Gibbs came into the game with a 6-1 record and a 0.56 earned run average and 90 strikeouts in 50 innings. He allowed only three hits and one earned run and had 10 strikeouts – including Jordan twice – in six innings.

“Will pitched well tonight, we didn’t get the big hit when we needed it,” Prep coach Brent Heavener said. “Their pitcher did a great job keeping us off balance. JA played hard and out played us. They wanted it more than we did. I think the big momentum shift was when Dakota made the big throw to third base for the double play. We’ve just got to come out fighting Friday.”

The Jackson Academy Raiders baseball team hosted the Jackson Prep Patriots on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

         Once again, major league scouts were there Tuesday night to watch Jordan, but he didn’t get a chance to show his speed on the basepaths (0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a flyout to left field). Jordan, a Mississippi State football and baseball signee, had been one of the hottest hitters in the country before Tuesday. Jordan – who was this week’s Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Baseball Player of the Week – came into Tuesday with a .547 batting average on the season and had broken the school record with his 13th home run Friday against MRA. He had hit nine home runs in his last seven games and is tied for second in the nation in home runs. It was the first time in eight games he had failed to get a hit. Jordan was hitting .681 with a slugging percentage of 1.955 with 15 runs scored and 25 RBIs in his last seven games.

         Griffin – rated as the best player in the country in his class by Perfect Game – was having a tremendous season in his first year as a varsity player for Prep. Prep’s leadoff hitter, Griffin was leading the team with a .472 batting average, .614 on base percentage, .833 slugging percentage, 38 runs scored, 4 triples and 12 stolen bases. Griffin also had 19 runs batted in, 9 doubles, 3 home runs and has made only one error this season. On the mound, Griffin had a 5-1 record, a 0.61 earned run average with 11 walks and 51 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings in nine starts.

         He didn’t play in last Friday’s doubleheader against Presbyterian Christian – Prep split the two games – and Tuesday night against JA.

         Griffin had been Prep’s second game starting pitcher during the conference’s three-game series this season. Senior left-hander and Northwest Mississippi CC signee Cy Craig started in Griffin’s place last Friday against PCS.