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Jackson picking up where Etzel left off with Cutters

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Williamsport Crosscutters outfielder Taylor Jackson celebrates with teammates after he scored during a recent game against Trenton at Bowman Field on July 23.

The Crosscutters were blessed with a leadoff hitter who led the league in batting average, on base percentage and runs throughout the first half of the 2022 MLB Draft League season.

That man, Matthew Etzel, is gone and off to Southern Miss to continue his college career after a sensational tenure in Williamsport. A big question on the other side of the MLB Draft was who would fill Etzel’s shoes at the top of the order.

Midway through August, the answer is clear. Taylor Jackson, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign product has been consistently filling the one-hole. Like Etzel, he even plays center field on defense.

“I’m just trying to do what I can for the team,” Jackson said. “Do what the leadoff guy is supposed to do, get on base, spark the team, get the lineup going. That’s kind of what I strive for every day.”

Jackson has been hitting his stride recently. In the Crosscutters’ current homestead, the Chicago native recorded his first home run — a 382-foot solo shot over the left-center wall — to kick off Williamsport’s series against Mahoning Valley and earned three RBIs within the first two games.

So far in the second half, Jackson has 12 hits, 12 runs and seven RBIs with a .245 batting average. He’s also taken 16 total bases and holds a .309 OBP.

While it may be his first time playing professional baseball, it isn’t Jackson’s first experience batting at the top of the order.

“I’ve pretty much been the leadoff hitter, two-hitter, eight-hole leadup to start the lineup. It’s kind of been my role since I was a little kid,” Jackson said.

A four-year letterwinner and two-time team MVP in his upperclassmen years at Kenwood Academy, Jackson also held offers from Indiana State, Marshall, UIC and Louisville.

In his three seasons playing in the Big Ten, Jackson recorded 91 hits with 46 RBI and 10 homers, scored 68 runs and batted .261.

Playing in the Big Ten taught Jackson how to hang with Division I talent. He learned to compete against big-time pitchers and grew as a player on the diamond.

But he also learned time management skills and not to take anything for granted, lessons he’s carrying into his time in Williamsport.

“I’ve taken all the memories I possibly could,” Jackson said. “I just enjoyed playing with my teammates, the guys every day in the locker room. Giving what we got in the Big Ten and enjoying the experience.”

During warmups on the third day of the Crosscutters’ current homestead, Jackson heard the Nittany Lion roar while stretching. In true Pennsylvania fashion, it was Penn State Day at Bowman Field with workers walking around sporting navy blue jerseys.

Jackson has already heard that roar a few times at State College already since his start in the MLB Draft League. The Nittany Lion’s vocals bring back recent memories, and fond ones at that.

“I think it’s funny,” Jackson said with a laugh. “I think it’s funny. It’s no hard feelings against Penn State. They weren’t like our rivals or anything. But we did beat them in football. And baseball. And basketball.”

Williamsport holds first place in the MLB Draft League standings and enters a crucial series against the Spikes as the two clubs battle for a bid to join the Black Bears in the championship game on Sept. 6 at West Virginia.

The Crosscutters and Black Bears lead the league in fielding percentage (.970) and Williamsport has the fewest errors (57) on the season. Behind a pitching staff that’s garnered the lowest ERA and league and team Player of the Week awards, the Crosscutters enter a big series against the Spikes with some momentum.

“We’re just gonna keep the team chemistry going. I feel like we’re a group of guys who love to play baseball and we have a different type of bond,” Jackson said. “I feel like it’s a more family-oriented team. We come out here, we handle our business, we always get our stuff done regardless of the weather, the standings or anything really. We don’t really think about that. We just play to win every night.”

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