FOUR OAKS — Joe Johnson is making a habit of coming up big in the clutch for his South Johnston baseball team.
The sophomore outfielder blasted a 1-1 offering from Brett McLamb out of the yard with none out and one on in the seventh, giving the Trojans a 5-3 victory over Triton and a tie for first place in the Two Rivers 3A conference.
The win on Thursday at Bruce Coats Field – the game was moved from Friday so the teams would have fresher pitching for the weekend’s Johnston County Easter Tournament – was the fifth straight for South (9-4, 5-1). It avenged a 9-3 romp by the Hawks (10-3, 5-1) back on March 24 in Erwin.
Johnson, who has five homers on the season, has been on fire of late including the winning homer in a 4-2 victory over Smithfield-Selma April 8, and ending the game by throwing a runner out at the plate in a 5-4 win at Cleveland on April 3.
“That one came at a great time,” South coach Keith Durham said. “Tip your hat to Triton – it was a great high school baseball game both ways. Both pitchers threw it well, guys were making plays all over the field. We just had it go our way this time.
“It could have swung one way or the other and it swung our way last. We played error-free and Colby did a tremendous job on the mound. He has not been used to going that deep in games, and he did a great job going all seven.”
The game was a solid pitchers’ duel on both sides, despite the fact each team hit a pair of homers out of the tiny park.
Junior Colby Jones (3-0) went all the way for the Trojans, allowing the three runs on five hits with two strikeouts against one walk. Triton starter Aaron Hedgepeth went six innings, allowing three runs on four hits with four strikeouts against three walks.
“From a spectator standpoint, that was probably one of the best ball games anybody could possibly watch,” Triton coach Joey Miriello said. “Neither team beat itself. Both guys on the mound competed and did a good job. Both teams had some clutch hits. Tanner came up in the seventh and got a home run to tie it and got a little momentum going, and then the bottom line is you have to tip your hat to South Johnston and Joseph Johnson.”
South took a 2-0 lead in the first with Joey Matthews coming up with the only hit, the runs scoring on a bases-loaded walk to Zach Bridges and Jones’ sacrifice fly to right.
Triton cut the lead in half in the third on Tyler Vaughn’s one-out homer to left, but the Trojans answered when Bridges blasted a two-out, 2-0 offering over the wall in right.
Triton made it 3-2 as Vaughn led off the sixth with a double to right and scored on Austin Lee’s double to right. The Hawks then tied the game when Tanner Ferguson led off the seventh by rocketing a shot over the wall in right.
“I was about as nervous as I’d ever been before a baseball game,” Jones said. “We knew Triton was good and could hit, and I threw probably the best game I’ve ever thrown in my life. Their last home run was way out (in the strike zone) and I haven’t figured out how he hit it yet. Our whole team was ready. We were all pumped up for the game and we got the job done.”
Jones got the next three batters in succession after Ferguson’s homer.
Then in the bottom of the frame Josh Stikeleather drew a leadoff walk before Johnson’s game-ending blast.
“I came up there just trying to get a base hit,” said Johnson, who had two hits and scored twice. “He threw me a good pitch. I was just trying to make contact and I hit a line drive over the fence (310 in right).
“We had our momentum as good as it was the whole game when we came up in the seventh.”