Prep Baseball: Johnson, East hands West first loss
GRANITE QUARRY — It’s early, but we’ve already seen both sides of East Rowan left-hander Connor Johnson.
There was the overpowering Johnson who dominated Carson with 16 Ks in a road game the Mustangs weren’t supposed to win.
Then on Tuesday, there was the gritty Johnson, who steered his team to a 5-3 victory against West Rowan at Staton Field. On paper, the Mustangs, unfamiliar names except Johnson and third baseman Hunter Brooks, weren’t supposed to win this one either.
Johnson (4-0) got the final two outs in a tense NPC game played in front of a massive crowd with the tying runs at second and third, and the Falcons lost for the first time.
East (4-3, 3-0) took over first in the NPC. West is 6-1, 2-1.
“When Connor is out there, we know we’re going to get a lot of determination,” East catcher Luke Setzer said.
Jeremy Simpson’s pop fly fell safely for an RBI single in a sloshy right field to put West ahead 1-0 in top of the second, but East (4-3, 3-0) scored five times in the bottom half vs. West lefty Justin Evans (2-1).
Michael Caldwell’s one-out solo shot to left tied it. It was the first homer for East.
“I don’t think of myself as a home-run hitter, but I got a fastball low and in and hit it pretty good,” Caldwell said.
The game’s biggest swing.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys who were fine on jayvees, but they hadn’t played in a 7 o’clock game against West Rowan and we were playing scared,” East coach Brian Hightower said. “Then we get down early, but Caldwell makes it 1-1. That was huge.”
Two-out walks to bottom-of-the-order guys Hunter Poston and Ty Beck kept the inning going. Then East got huge, two-run singles from Scott Sapp and Setzer to take a 5-1 lead.
“A couple of things didn’t go our way, and they have a big inning,” West coach Chad Parker said.
Sapp was making his varsity debut. He was needed after East’s leading hitter Ike Freeman broke a thumb last week.
Sapp hammered his single to center. Setzer lined his single to right.
“Coach had drilled into my head that I had to go backside against Evans,” Setzer said.
Johnson with a four-run lead is close to a sure thing, but the Falcons, who have a potent lineup, weren’t done. Evans whacked a two-run single in the third, and it was 5-3.
Michael Ball took over on the mound for West in the third and was outstanding. East wouldn’t score again.
West had two on with none out in the fourth, but Johnson got out of it. Taylor Garczynski smacked a double to open the fifth, but Johnson stranded him in the third.
“Ball was good, and we had plenty of opportunities to come back,” Parker said. “Give Johnson credit. He got himself out of trouble and East’s defense made plays to get off the field.”
Ball worked out of a bases-loaded, none-out mess in the East sixth to set the stage for a dramatic top of the seventh.
Johnson had told Hightoower he wanted the seventh, but he looked tired.
“Coach told me if anyone got on base I was coming out,” Johnson said. “But how do you come out of a game like that.”
Johnson hit Harrison Baucom with a pitch. Hightower groaned but didn’t move. Then Johnson walked Michael Pinkston on a 3-2 pitch, and Hightower visited the mound.
“He told Connor their lefties were coming up, so he’d leave him in if he believed he could get them,” Sezter said. “Connor said he’d get them.”
Garczynski grounded out, advancing both runners. Then Johnson got ahead of Evans and struck him out — just his fourth. When Hunter Teeter popped up in foul ground to end it, Johnson relaxed and East fans celebrated.
NOTE: Hightower is 172-63 at East and 92-21 in league games. Hightower’s teams are 15-4 in battles with the Falcons.