Simply put, Bishop McNamara’s Owen Jackson can rake. He led the area with 12 home runs, about twice as many as anyone else in the area, and his 48 RBIs were also an area-best.

Those offensive numbers came despite Jackson’s primary duties as the Irish catcher, where the rock-solid junior managed one of the area’s deepest pitching staffs as the Irish won their first sectional since 1994.

For those reasons, Jackson has been named the 2019 Daily Journal Co-Player of the Year.

In his second season as a full-time varsity player, Jackson noticed early in the season he was putting things together when the Irish took a weekend trip to Tennessee in March.

During the three games the Irish played down south, Jackson went 8 for 11 and mashed five homers.

“I always knew I had it in me, but I didn’t know I had it like I did this year,” Jackson said. “But after we went down to Tennessee that first week, it started coming to me, and I felt in a groove.”

Jackson stayed in that groove all season and saved his best performance for the end of the season, when the Irish battled Metro Suburban Conference rivals Chicago Christian in the IHSA Class 2A Seneca Sectonal semifinal.

Jackson already had crushed a pair of dingers when he stepped to the plate with two runners on and two outs in the top of the seventh in a 4-4 game. He crushed his third homer of the game to put the Irish ahead 7-4, the game’s eventual final score.

“My mindset most of the time, especially with runners in scoring position, is to get the ball to right field so the runners can get around,” Jackson said. “We needed those runs to come around, and that’s what I was aiming for.”

What is it that makes Jackson so successful at the dish? Irish coach Kurt Quick said it’s the smooth, left-handed stroke Jackson has, a swing that Quick said he didn’t have to do much coaching on.

“There’s not much movement in it, and that’s what makes him such a good hitter,” Quick said. “He’s big and strong, and he’s going to be in the gym this summer and get even bigger and stronger.”

Between that trip to Tennessee and the three-homer game, Jackson not only was steady at the plate but also behind it.

Quick pointed to Jackson’s ability to catch a game and work well with all of their pitchers as an underrated facet of Jackson’s game.

“We had five really good pitchers, different guys that throw different things,” Quick said. “It was Owen’s responsibility back there to make sure we were doing what we needed to do, and he did a good job, especially as a junior.”

Jackson said hitting is his favorite part about baseball, but he also relishes the opportunity to serve as team leader while serving behind the plate.

“I like it because you can control what your team does,” Jackson said. “When they’re not in position, it’s my fault because I see everything on the field.

“Being a leader has helped me become a better player, and I know what I have to do to help our team win.”

In addition to his co-player of the year honor, Jackson was a first-team Metro Suburban All-Conference selection and an Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 2A All-State selection.

With the ultimate goal of playing college baseball on a scholarship, Jackson said the abundance of accolades, particularly all-state, will help him in that regard.

“I was really hoping for [all-state] because it gets my name out there,” Jackson said. “Knowing I want to play baseball in college, it was good to get me looked at before my senior year.”

Before he returns to the diamond for his senior season as a baseball player, Jackson will be on the gridiron and the basketball court. A year removed from a trip to the IHSA Class 4A State Finals in football, Jackson knows the Irish will have targets on their backs there, as well as the baseball field.

“We’re known for both now,” Jackson said. “It gets our names out there, gives our players more of a chance to get looked at by colleges and maybe get scholarships.”

While it certainly will be a challenge to fight off every team’s A-game next season, as schools will want to be the ones to knock off the Irish, that’s something Jackson said he looks forward to during his final season as a prep athlete.

“Honestly, I like when we’re the people everyone wants to beat,” Jackson said. “It makes us practice harder and we have to work for it because we didn’t do our job — we’re still not finished yet.”

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