Sterling Jackson said he looks for a reason to be angry at the pitcher when he steps into the batter’s box. That moment presented itself in the district championship game.
With two outs and a pair of runners on base, Mountain Grove elected to walk No. 3 hitter Alex Castleman to load the bases for Jackson.
“It offended me a little bit,” Jackson said.
So he channeled that offense into the moment of the season – and one that will last a lifetime.
After taking a first-pitch curveball for a strike, Jackson drilled the next delivery over the 315-foot sign in right field for a grand slam. The homer broke a 4-1 game and all but clinched the Tigers’ 15-5 win for the program’s first district championship since 2007 and seventh overall.
It was little surprise Jackson came through in the clutch. The junior led the Tigers in batting (.405), on-base percentage (.516) and runs batted in (28). He tied for the team lead with 30 hits and a pair of home runs. He was honored last week for his standout season with an honorable mention selection to the Class 3 all-state team.
“Sterling was deserving of this honor,” HHS coach Brent Hall said. “He has worked hard to develop himself as a player.”
It starts with his mental approach.
The left-hander said he looks for motivation from the opponent delivering the baseball. Sometimes it is manufactured. And sometimes it’s obvious – like the Panthers loading the bases in the title game.
“I look at the pitcher and try to find something I can be angry about,” Jackson said. “It makes me want to hit the ball harder.”
The offense he found with the Panthers wasn’t only in that single moment either. The previous time the two teams played just a couple weeks earlier, Jackson had a walk-off two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 6-5 HHS win.
Jackson said he thought of that moment as he walked to the plate after Mountain Grove chose to load the bases to face him.
“I was questioning what they were thinking,” he said. “I tried to capitalize on it.”
That’s the mental aspect of his approach. Physically, Jackson said he tries to stay up the middle and hit it as hard as he can.
“I don’t like hitting the ball soft just to make contact,” he said. “I’m trying to see how far I can hit it.”
Yet he consistently makes contact.
Hall said of Jackson’s offensive numbers, the one that stood out to him was his low strikeout percentage. He struck out just six times in 93 plate appearances.
Jackson credited several people for his standout season. He said Hall’s addition of fall baseball games and opening the gym at 6:30 a.m. during the winter helped he and his teammates develop their skills. He also pointed out the growth and brotherhood of his teammates. Jackson said the group does everything – from eating breakfast at the hospital to cruising town – together.
Jackson said his father, Jerry, also played an important role in his development. After a year when he couldn’t throw batting practice to his son following shoulder surgery, Jerry was back on the mound after nearly every game this year tossing balls to Sterling.
“It’s pretty special,” Jackson said.