Johnston Leads Post 284 Pirates To Wn
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jun 18, 2014, 09:00
Corey Johnston tossed 7 shutout innings while punching out 11 in the Pirates win
MECHANICSVILLE — Expectations are high for the American Legion Post 284 Pirates' squad entering the season and it's for good reason. Last year's 284 junior squad won the State Championship and the core of that team is now listed among the players on the senior roster this season. However, a championship pedigree means nothing unless it can be utilized in between the white lines and it did not take the Pirates long to start fulfilling some of the lofty expectations against Ashland Post 206.
Following C.J. Henderson's long fly ball to center for an out, Nathan Eaton lined a base-hit up the middle on a full-count for the Pirates' first baserunner of the game. Eaton would take second on a wild-pitch and advanced to third on a ground out by Collin Fleischer. But after the very next delivery, Eaton alertly took off for home, sliding across the plate safely.
It would be all the Pirates needed to awaken themselves in the top of the 1st inning, pushing across two additional runs to take a 3-0 lead. The three-run cushion would be more than enough for Pirates' starting pitcher Corey Johnston who dominated Post 206 with his best start in the calendar year.
The overpowering start by Johnston coupled with a high-powered offense which pushed across nine runs, resulted in an easy 9-1 victory which could have been more dominating if the Pirates didn't struggle with runners in scoring position. But even after struggling through the middle innings before breaking through late, Pirates' manager Gilbert Baber was still pleased with the team's effort.
"I couldn't ask for anything better. Just giving up that one run," Baber said after the game. "It was my first game as the senior coach and we didn't know what we had. Last year's team was really a mediocre team and we had a little pride after last year's season. I didn't want them to be overconfident, but I wanted them to be confident."
No one was more confident than the player who took the hill for the Pirates (1-0). After pitching in a game over the weekend for a travel team, Johnston found himself in a groove. He was able to repeat his delivery, pound the strike zone and locate his pitches with ruthless efficiency.
Just three days later, Johnston was able to carry over the success from his last outing against tough competition at the Naval Academy into the Pirates' season-opener. While Johnston was confident in himself after throwing his bullpen session prior to the game, even he couldn't have dreamt of the outing he would toss.
Post 206 (0-1) lead-off hitter Hunter McKinney lined an opposite-field single to open the game, but that would be the only hit they would record over the next four inning. The Thomas Dale standout was in complete command, tossing his fastball to both corners of the plate and was able to locate a late-breaking curveball to entice hitters to swing through it.
In fact, Johnston was so dominant, he struck out the side in the second inning on just 12 pitches and by the end of the night had punched out 11 batters in a 7-inning, three-hit and no-run allowed masterpiece.
"He was absolutely lights out," Baber said of the right-hander who also had two doubles on the night. "You couldn't have asked for a better outing. He was just cruising."
Added Johnston, "I wanted to go at them with first-pitch fastballs to set up my off-speed pitches and it paid off. I just battled through those last two innings with my arm getting tired, but it came down to locating my fastball and punching them out with the curveball."
And the reason Johnston was comfortable enough to throw his curveball with as much conviction as he did on the night was because of the work of Austin Gammon behind the dish.
Gammon received the ball well all night and remained square on every pitch in the dirt, giving Johnston the confidence to bounce two-strike pitches to pick up key strikeouts. But that was not the only place Gammon made an impact.
The Pirates' catcher drove in the third run of the game in the 1st inning with an RBI single and later drove in another on an opposite-field single in the 7th inning, finishing the night 2-for-3 at the plate with two RBIs and a sacrifice bunt.
Nathan Eaton scored the Pirates' first run of the game by stealing home.
"That's the college freshman leadership we needed. He's one of the returners from last season's team and he played for me before on the junior team," Baber said of Gammon. "I know him well. He's a great receiver."
But perhaps most promising was the play of Blake Hartman over the final five innings of play.
The rising senior had not played a game since having his knee worked on after his high school season, but didn't look like he missed a beat once entering the game. Hartman officially went just 1-for-1 with three RBIs, but his lone hit was a big one for the Pirates.
After stranding nine runners on base from innings two through six, Hartman came up big with a two-out jam-shot double to drive in two runs in the top of the 9th inning. While the game was no longer in doubt at the time — the Pirates had a 7-0 lead — it was a big one mentally for Hartman and the coaching staff to see him come through.
"He looked pretty good to me health-wise as I was watching him real close, but he looked ready to go," Baber said. "After he got that first hit, he looked at me and said he's 100 percent when before the game he told me 80."
Prior to the game, Baber and his staff didn't quite know what type of season was in store for a talented team with a championship core. However, if their opening-game victory is any indication, more victories should be following in the weeks ahead.