TAMPA — Gaither senior pitcher Zach Jackson took the mound Tuesday night with a new frame of mind.
Worrying about his college future — and the pressure surrounding it — was a thing of the past. For the first time in a long time, he could just pitch.
Twenty-four hours after making his college commitment to Division II Barry University, Jackson threw a three-hitter as the Cowboys defeated rival Alonso 5-1.
"I think (committing) had a lot to do with it," Cowboys coach Frank Permuy said. "He's a kid who is a little hard on himself, and you could really tell there was a weight lifted off his shoulders."
After overcoming a 26-pitch first inning, Jackson retired 13 of the next 15 batters he faced, including nine straight through the middle innings.
"I could go out there and just focus on baseball," Jackson said. "The more relaxed you are, the better results you're going to get. And any time you can beat a team like Alonso, it feels great."
Gaither (4-1) jumped on Alonso starter Chris Chism early, sending eight to the plate and scoring three unearned runs in the first inning that included three walks, one fielding error, two passed balls and five Gaither stolen bases.
The Cowboys tacked on two more in the fourth on RBI hits by Oscar Mercado and Tyler Siegel.
Jackson (2-0) allowed just one hit through his first six innings of work and was one out away from pitching a shutout, but Dylan Gross' RBI single with two outs in the seventh scored Alonso's only run.
For the Ravens (2-2), it was their first run in 14 innings.
The Cowboys had just six hits, with leadoff hitter Matt Frey having three, but Gaither's defense made up for it.
Second baseman Cody Robinson made a nice play by following into the hole a ball that ricocheted off the first baseman's foot and throwing to Jackson covering first in time to end the second. And freshman substitute Randy Oliva's diving stab at third prevented a sure single in the seventh.