Johnson, Tigers salvage split with Cougars
Kyle Johnson and the Douglas Tigers came up big Saturday in the second game of their Northern Division I doubleheader against Spanish Springs.
Coming off a tough 3-1 loss in game one and facing a critical situation in the regular season race, Johnson took the ball and responded with a complete game 5-2 victory on a windy and chilly afternoon at Tiger Field.
Douglas (17-8 overall, 11-5 league) scored four runs in the second inning to take the lead and end a six-game losing streak against Spanish Springs dating to the 2013 season.
Johnson, who pitched the distance Tuesday in a tough 4-3 loss against Bishop Manogue, only needed 86 pitches to complete his five-hitter against the Cougars. After losing the opener, coach Bruce Jacobsen knew exactly who he wanted on the mound.
“Pitching on three days rest is not an easy task for a major leaguer let alone a high school kid,” Jacobsen said. “I would not say it was a must-win situation, but it was a game we needed to win, and Kyle’s the guy we want to be out there.”
Johnson had eight strikeouts and one walk while improving his season record to 6-3 with one save — two of those losses have been decided by one run. The senior right-hander said he felt no fatigue even though he had seven innings against Manogue at Aces Ballpark in Reno.
“They were asking how I felt and I told them I was feeling really good,” Johnson said. “I definitely did a better job of locating the ball and getting ahead of the hitters today. I’ve gotten into trouble in the past by not hitting my spots, so I just told myself I needed to focus harder.”
The Tigers scored four runs on five hits during their big second inning rally. Dalton Grisell doubled and scored when Zach Davies singled. Caleb Foster delivered a one-out single to drive home another run, Parker Dixon singled and Kaleb Foster followed with a two-run double into the right-center field gap to make it 4-0.
Johnson worked out of a bases loaded jam without any damage in the fourth inning. The Cougars put three runners aboard on an error, single and walk before Johnson retired the side on a called strikeout and ground out to second baseman Dusten Plante.
Spanish Springs came back with one run in the fifth inning when Ricky Espinoza doubled to left field, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Jake Prizina’s ground out to Plante.
The Cougars pulled to within 4-2 in the sixth when Justin Mannens got aboard on an infield hit and scored on Jeff McCusker’s double to center field. The threat was minimized, however, thanks to a clutch play by Foster behind the plate. With two outs and the dangerous-hitting Chase Hauder standing in the box, Foster rifled a strike to shortstop Dillon Lopez to pick McCusker off second base.
“I was just trying to help my pitcher out,” the junior catcher said. “He was behind on the count so I gave Loper (Lopez) a heads-up I might be throwing. When I saw the guy leaning a little too far off (from second base), I didn’t even think about it, I just threw it and hoped for the best.”
The Tigers came back to score an insurance run in the bottom half of the inning. Johnson led off with a single to center and advanced to second when Dalton Grisell’s sacrifice bunt was misplayed for an error. Plante followed with a single to center field that was booted for another error that allowed the run to score.
“That was a big deal,” Jacobsen said of the win. “They’ve been an absolute nemesis of ours the last couple of years — we’ve lost a lot of one-run games to them — so it was huge that we were able to salvage a split.”
The Tigers dropped three one-run decisions to Spanish Springs during the 2013 season, including a 1-0 loss in the first-round of the region tournament, in addition to a 3-2 tournament loss earlier this month.
Spanish Springs (8-9 overall, 6-8 league) scored twice in the sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie in the opener. The Cougars took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Hunter Pinto drew a leadoff walk and scored when pitcher Jake Prizina doubled to right field.
Douglas answered with a run of its own in the bottom half of the inning. Foster dropped a single into center field — the Tigers’ first hit of the game — advanced on a wild pitch and passed ball, then scored on another passed ball.
Prizina, a junior left-hander, pitched 5.1 innings to pick up the win. Matt Santos doubled into the left-center field gap with one out in the sixth, however, Jake Haley stuck out four of the six batters he faced in relief to earn the save.
Grisell pitched five-hit ball over 5.1 innings for the Tigers. The senior left-hander worked out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth, aided when Lopez, Plante and Santos collaborated on a 6-4-3 double play.