TAMPA — Gaither pitcher Zach Jackson's season didn't start the way he wanted it to, but he says he's better for it.
The senior right-hander was the losing pitcher in the season-opening loss to Steinbrenner. And his roller-coaster season has included a trip to the bullpen to work on his mechanics.
But Friday night against Durant, Jackson turned in his best performance of the season, holding the Cougars to two hits over five innings as the Cowboys won their ninth straight with a 5-1 victory.
"That first game of the year was heartbreaking to lose," Jackson said. "It was a really humbling experience, but I think we've all learned from it."
The Cowboys (11-2) have dominated their Class 5A-9 opponents 8-0, so facing the Class 5A-8 leading Cougars (8-5) was a quality test.
"I think they're starting to realize that they can do something if we play the whole game," Gaither coach Frank Permuy said.
Gaither took the lead on Matthew Frey's RBI triple to right in the third, then after Durant answered in the fourth with a run, the Cowboys took a 2-1 lead when Justin Delgado scored on a wild pitch.
Frey, who was 2-for-3, has been one of the Cowboys' hottest hitters. He is 12-for-22, hitting .545.
Gaither reliever Dylan Hathcock got the final six outs for his third save of the season. First baseman Brady North then paced a three-run sixth with a two-run single, which was followed by Mike Danner's RBI groundout.
"We had to play small ball, which will help us down the line once we start playing in tournaments like the Saladino," Permuy said.
Durant starter Chaz Fowler, a freshman making his first varsity start, held up his end for the Cougars, yielding just one run over four innings. Fowler stranded seven Gaither baserunners.
"He held his composure well even though he got into some tough situations," Durant coach Butch Valdez said. "It's definitely a bright spot for the future."