CLAYTON — Two days removed from helping lead his South Johnston baseball team to a one-run victory with a solid pitching performance, Joe Johnson and his arm was called upon yet again to snatch an important Two Rivers 3A Conference win at Cleveland.
Johnson, this time positioned in center field, saved the day in the bottom of the seventh inning when, after hauling in Alan-Michael Hales’ fly ball for the second out, fired a bullet to catcher Zachary Bridges. Bridges turned to face a leaping Aaron Farmer, reached up to apply the tag and held onto the ball and for a 5-4 victory.
“I got a good read, was coming in hard and got my momentum up and made a good strong throw,” Johnson said. “Coach kept asking me if my arm felt good because I was only on one day rest from pitching and I told him I was good and I’m glad it worked out that way.”
The dramatic ending capped off an impressive performance from both clubs’ bullpens.
Trojan starter, Cody Allen, felt tightness in his arm after recording just the fourth out of the game.
South Johnston called upon Colby Jones and then Dillon Lee to close out the game and both did their best to grab the important conference win that improved South Johnston’s record in the league to 3-1. Cleveland fell to 1-3 in the Two Rivers 3A Conference.
“Colby stepped right in and it was almost seamless,” South Johnston coach Keith Durham said. “He came right in and just went to work.”
Jones got into a jam in the fifth inning when the Rams loaded the bases and put three runs up on the board to draw to within the 5-4 score before Lee recorded the third out of the frame and finished out the remainder of the contest on the mound.
“Dillon came in, got us out of that jam and then stayed focused, stayed calm when it looked like they had everything you wanted there in the seventh inning,” Durham said. “He stayed focused, didn’t panic and did what we expect a senior to do and he did a great job.”
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Cleveland’s Avery Dean led off with a towering shot to deep left-field that one-hopped to the fence that let him advance to second base.
Farmer came on to pinch run and subsequently advanced to third base on a balk with no outs recorded just yet.
Lee got Nolan Bailey to ground out to the shortstop before Hales hit the ball in the air to Johnson.
“We hit a medium shallow fly ball,” Lee said, describing the game’s final play. “I had the fastest runner I’ve got on my team on third base and we just wanted to make them make a play…and they made it.
“If we do it over again, we’d do the same thing.”
Bridges, who made several good stops behind the plate in the fifth inning to prevent more Cleveland runs from coming across, shared his view of the game-clinching play.
“As soon as I saw (Hales) hit the ball in the air, I knew (Farmer) would be tagging and I knew that (Johnson) had a strong arm,” Bridges said. “So once I caught the ball, I knew he was going to come in hard so I just put the hard tag on and held on to the ball.”
Chase Jackson came on in relief for Cleveland with his club trailing 5-1 and strung together three scoreless innings of relief to keep the Rams in the contest.
“He’s done a good job for us this year,” Lee said of Jackson. “He doesn’t throw hard but he keep the batters off balance. He came in and gave us a chance.”
Joey Matthews got the Trojans on the board early with a RBI infield single in the first inning. Nash Johnson supplied a two-run scoring base hit in the second and a RBI single in the fourth before Drew Mustgrave gave South Johnston all the runs it would need when he drove in Joe Johnson.
Nash Johnson finished 3-for-3 on the night while Joe Johnson recorded a two-hit game.
Bailey plated Chase Jackson in the first on a RBI single to right field before a walk, a hit batter and a wild pitch all with the bases loaded in the fifth inning led to the Rams’ big three-run inning.
Dean and Jackson led Cleveland with two hits apiece.
Lee was credited with the win thanks to two-and-a-third scoreless innings of relief while the Rams Maison Mullins was tagged with the loss.