During his high school career, Jordan Jackson felt pressure to perform well.
The recent Crawfordsville High School graduate and Wright State signee didn’t sense he had to be the leader in Saturday’s Indiana North/South baseball all-star doubleheader at Wabash College’s Goodrich Ballpark.
Though his career with the Athenians ended with a semistate loss at Jasper, Jackson helped the South team to a pair of victories on Saturday, including a 13-0 drubbing in Game 2 that marks the largest margin of victory in the series’ 39 years.
Jackson’s safety squeeze allowed the go-ahead run to score in a 7-3 victory in Game 1, and his diving catch in left field with two outs and a runner on second in the eighth inning preserved a 4-3 lead.
“I knew that I didn’t need to try to carry this team,” said Jackson, who reached base in four of his five plate appearances. “There’s so many great players on the roster, that didn’t even come across my mind.
“After my first at-bat (a strikeout), I will admit I was kind of nervous. But as soon as I came in, the guys said, ‘Hey, you’ll get them next time.’ To get picked up like that from great Division I players and major league prospects was overwhelming to me and helped me settle down and play my game.”
Riley Benner also used a statewide stage to make a name for himself.
The Tri-County graduate collected the first hit in each game, doubling down the right field line in the second inning of Game 1 and scoring on Lafayette Jeff grad Peter Ripke’s RBI, and driving a single up the middle in the first inning of Game 2.
The humble Benner credited his upbringing for allowing him a chance to shine in front of the state’s top players and coaches.
“The baseball tradition, just having that growing up and picking up a baseball bat as soon as I could walk, a big thanks goes to my family and coaches for giving me that baseball tradition and drive to work at it and try to become a good enough ballplayer to maybe get a chance to play at this stage,” Benner said.
Benner, who started at third both games for the North alongside Ripke at shortstop, went 2 for 4 and had a third hit taken away on a spectacular play by Bryce Pennington at third base. But it was his defense that had fans and Benner’s peers praising him.
Benner had six assists at third base, turning one double play and also making a diving stop and throw across the diamond to gun down Greenfield Central’s Curtiss Irving.
“He did a great job, and we finally saw one go by him, so we realized he is human down there at third,” said McCutcheon’s Justin Curry, who started Game 1 and pitched three hitless innings with two strikeouts.
Curry walked Alex Krupa, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, to start Game 1 before retiring the next nine, and he was in line for the victory via all-star game rules after Ripke’s RBI grounder scored Benner.
The South tied the game in the fourth and took a 3-1 lead in the sixth before Central Catholic’s Andrew Hubertz entered and pitched the North out of a jam. The North tied the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth when Jackson’s bunt down to third base in the seventh allowed Pennington to score on a throwing error. The South tacked on three more runs in the ninth off Crown Point’s Zach Plesac.
After four scoreless innings in Game 2, the South busted the game open when Jackson and Garrett Sherrell were each hit by a pitch in the fifth and scored on Colton Martin’s single. The South tacked on three more in the sixth, four in the seventh and five in the eighth in the lopsided victory.
“With the lineup we have and the players on the roster, it is expected that we win,” Jackson said. “I am humbled by the opportunity to go out here and compete with these guys. It’s unforgettable.”
The previous all-star series record for largest margin of victory was 11, when the South won 14-3 in Game 2 at Fort Wayne in 2011. Saturday also marked the first shutout since the South won 3-0 at Notre Dame in 2008.
The series concludes Sunday with a wooden-bat game at noon. The players will trade in their all-star uniforms and wear the jerseys of their respective high schools.