Jackson sets the pace as freshman

Balers freshman Jackson Pace has yielded just two earned runs in five starts this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

It wasn’t that long ago—three years in fact—when Jackson Pace was playing for the Hollister American Little League All Star teams that went a combined 22-0 in district play. Even then, Pace didn’t know if he would ever suit up in a Haybaler uniform.

“I had no idea. Honestly, I wasn’t really sure if I was going to play high school baseball,” the San Benito High freshman said. “I was just a little kid trying to throw the baseball as hard as I possibly could and hoping it would go in the zone.”

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Pace has come a long way. Entering this week’s play, the right-hander had allowed just two earned runs over five starts, a scintillating run of play that has everyone around the program excited for the present and future. Pace didn’t yield a run in his first three starts, highlighted by six shutout innings in a 2-0 win over Monte Vista Christian on March 29.

“That MVC game was my best game,” he said. “I felt very confident in what I was doing and had a good rhythm. … I’ve definitely surprised myself because I wasn’t expecting the season to go like this quite honestly. I’m still shocked in how it’s turned out for how young I am.”

So how did Pace go from a raw talent to a freshman sensation who is part of the San Benito High starting rotation? He credited several people for helping him develop and mature on and off the field. Baseball-wise, Pace said Balers coach Billy Aviles and Dub Baseball’s Erik Wagle have been instrumental in his development.

“Billy Aviles has been a huge help for all the different things he’s helped me with pitching and mechanics,” he said. “Erik Wagle is definitely someone who I want to thank and is one of the greatest coaches for my pitching development that I’ve had so far.”

Pace went on to explain that Wagle has helped him develop a stronger front side, which has allowed him to continue to throw a mid-80 mph fastball with command.

“He gives me a lot of drills to do to make that better,” Pace said.

Pace throws a two- and four-seam fastball, counting those as his best pitches. He imparts tremendous movement on his pitches, and has been pinpoint accurate. Pounding the strike zone with authority, Pace has gotten ahead of hitters, which puts him in a great position to keep them off-balance.

Pace has worked hard the last couple of years to prepare for the rigors of a long high school baseball season. Wanting to stay strong for the duration of a season, Pace started strength-training under Dan Cabuling, who is the strength and conditioning coach of ID3 Training in Morgan Hill.

“He’s really helped take my game to the next level with the personalized training he’s put me through,” Pace said. “My velocity has definitely been increasing every year. This year I would like to touch 90 (mph on the radar gun). That is one of my bigger goals, and the others are to get noticed and start getting ready for the whole recruiting experience because hopefully that will be prominent in my future.”

Pace has enjoyed his first season playing for a tradition-rich program with solid teammates and passionate coaches. He hopes he can play a huge role in the team winning its first-ever CCS championship in May. With plenty of talent and a work ethic to match, Pace’s career seems to have few limits.

This summer, Pace will vie for a spot on the 15U National Team after going through a process that started a little over two years ago with the Northern California National Team Identification Series (NTIS). Pace has a strong and productive approach to achieving success.

“I like to play and train my hardest and see where it takes me,” he said.

Pace started gaining confidence after he joined Dub Baseball three years ago, as he started learning the intricacies of the game and all of the little things that add up to make a sizeable difference in a player’s career. Pace seemingly is on pace—no pun intended—to be the top pitcher or one of the top two pitchers of the San Benito High staff for the duration of his high school career.

If Pace continues to develop, he could become one of the section’s best. That is a long way from just three years ago when he was a Little League All Star. Pace has grown up fast under the watchful eyes of his parents, Carlton and Julia, who he credits as positive and loving influences in his life.  

“I’m thankful to have people in my life who I can learn from and grow,” he said. “(Back in Little League) I just didn’t know much. I had so much to learn.”

Pace was 11 years old when he saw his dad complete a full Ironman in Arizona in 2014, a moment he’ll never forget.

“That was quite a feat,” Jackson said. “That was something else. Watching him finish that race, that is something you’ll never forget. It was amazing.”

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