By Rick Sheek
KNOXVILLE — Johnson County’s incredible postseason barrage ended on Friday night.
The Longhorns, after leading early and with the game still tied in the fourth inning, were overwhelmed 10-1 at Christian Academy of Knoxville in a Class AA baseball sectional.
“We just couldn’t keep it going for seven innings,” Johnson County coach Pete Pavusek said. “I don’t know if we just ran out of gas, or we just hit a wall. It’s a 1-1 ball game in the top of the fourth — I don’t know if we just were running thin there towards the end.
“A lot of ball games, a lot of emotional ball games — eight inning games, one-run games. It just kind of takes a toll on you after awhile.”
There was a one hour, forty-five minute delay for the start due to thunderstorms. The field was extremely saturated when play began.
The bottom of the fourth saw Bryce McMillan deliver a run-scoring single and Philip Pardue’s sacrifice fly made it 4-1. The Warriors (26-11) stranded two after Johnson County right fielder Andy Woods made a spectacular catch on the warning track.
McMillan unloaded a two-run single in the fifth, followed by Heath Hawkins’ RBI. A base runner crossed on a hit batter and it was 8-1.
The onslaught was completed in the sixth. An error plated a score and Dylan Keck tagged a sacrifice fly, and the bags were left juiced.
“You always want one more, one more, one more,” Pavusek said. “I told them, ‘You guys kept giving me one more.’ You get to a point and you’re like, one more game.
“We beat North and thought one more game, We beat Elizabethton, well one more game. You’re always thinking, just give me one more game. And they did — they took us all the way to the game that determines who goes to the state tournament.”
Johnson County (17-13) grabbed a 1-0 advantage in the first inning. Dusty Stout singled and was singled in by Harley Reece, and the Longhorns stranded a pair.
In the bottom half, CAK tied it up. Hawkins led off with a double, but was thrown out attempting to steal third base by Johnson County catcher Ryan Smith.
The bases were loaded with none out, and Josh Johnson’s sacrifice fly made it 1-all. The Warriors were retired when Johnson County center fielder Jacob Henson made a lunging catch, which resembled him diving in a swimming pool.
In the third, the Longhorns had three runners on with no outs. CAK reliever Dylan Keck then retired the side 1-2-3.
“That hurt,” Pavusek said. “We load the bases and no outs, and got a strikeout, strike out, groundout. One-one ball game, that’s a big momentum shift.” Johnson County’s Chad Hodgkiss singled to lead off the fourth. CAK turned a double play to end the side. “We came up a little short, but the juniors should want to pick up where we left off for next year,” Pavusek said. “We’ll just see how it goes, cross that bridge when we get there.”
McMillan batted 3 for 4. Also for the Warriors, Hawkins and Jon Sharpe were each 2 for 3.
Pardue lasted two innings on the mound, and got the hook in third after allowing a single and walking a batter. He was touched for two hits, the earned run, struck out three and walked four.
In his five innings of relief, Dalton Keck allowed two hits. He fanned five and walked two.
The Warriors advance to the state tournament in Murfeesboro for the second straight spring.
Johnson County ace Ryan Mahala lasted 42⁄3 innings. He was roughed up for nine hits, seven earned runs and fanned two with four walks, two wild pitches and two hit batters.
Reece entered and was pulled after hitting two batters and hurling a wild pitch. Andy Stout finished up, and in 11⁄3 innings allowed a hit, an earned run, struck out three and walked four with two wild pitches.
Reflecting, the coach doesn’t consider the final product too shabby for a team which finished fourth in the Three Rivers Conference.
“We might not have the best athletes, but we’ve got a lot of pride, a lot of heart and a lot of determination,” Pavusek said. “It seems like this year we never gave up. We never quit.
“We just kept battling, trying to get a base hit and trying to make a play. It was just a little bit different than years’ past. They didn’t have any quit in them — a good season.”
Johnson Co. 100 000 0 — 1 4 2 CAK 100 342 x — 10 10 0
Mahala, Reece (5), A. Stout (5) and Smith, Hampton (5). Pardue, Da. Keck (3) and Osborne. W—Keck. L—Mahala.