Photo/James Pugh

Stringer knew what they were going to face on the mound Thursday afternoon in the opening game of the MHSAA 1A State Championship series at Trustmark Park in Pearl. 

Speed on the mound!

Division I prospect Jared Johnson of Smithville High was as advertised.  The senior righty’s highest velocity pitch of the afternoon reached 94 mph on the Trustmark Park scoreboard.  His fastball consistently ranged from 88 mph to 93 mph all day long through the seven innings he pitched, and at times, he matched his velocity with off speed material that dipped into the upper 60’s.  That force was tough for the Red Devils to handle, limiting a good hitting Stringer squad to only two hits, and the Seminoles went on to take game one [4-2] from Stringer.

“With an arm like that consistently throwing in the low 90’s, that’s just something these guys have never come close to seeing,” Stringer head coach Wade Weathers said of Johnson.  “We hit him, and that’s all you can ask for against an arm like that.  The guy is who he is for a reason, but our guys weren’t scared.”

Even with the loss, the Red Devils dealt out a gutsy performance, leading the game 2-1 through the top of the third, and Weathers was extremely proud of his team’s fight to the finish. 

“We just lost, but I’ll tell you what . . . I’ve never been more proud of them.  They just competed their tails off at the plate,” he explained.  “They weren’t going to be overpowered by him [Johnson].  He had to throw his breaking pitch to beat a lot of our guys, and that’s what the plan was – make him beat you with the breaking ball.  They bought in to the plan.  A couple balls just fell their [Smithville’s] way.  Our guys put it in play.  They made their defense work for it, and I’m really proud of that.  They executed the game plan, we just came up short to a really good arm.”

Stringer took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.  Jackson Parker recorded a two-out walk, and Jake Parker dropped a hit in front of the center fielder to set up Red Devils runners at first and third.  Andrew Nix got Stringer’s last hit of the game to right, and scored Jackson Parker.  Later in the frame, Omarion Bridges [running for pitcher Jake Parker] stole third, and on a throwing error during the play, advanced home before Smithville recorded the final out of the at-bat.

The Seminoles plated a run in the bottom of the second when Todd Cowley drove in Jordan Wardlaw with a two-out, bases loaded hit to right, but the Red Devils, during the play, caught Mitch Finn in a run-down between second and third to record the third out.  After sitting down the Stringer side in order during the top of the third, the Seminoles tied the game [2-2] in the bottom half of the inning.  Facing Red Devils relief pitcher Jean Davis, Layne Williams tripled to lead off the frame.  Cole Hughey then sent a hit to left field that plated Williams.  Later in the at-bat, Wardlaw hit into a Cayleb Dyess, to Nix, to Jackson Parker double play.  Jake Parker then punched out Presley Keebler at first on a grounder to third to record the third out. 

The Red Devils were sat down in order again in the top of the fourth and top of the fifth innings, and the game remained tied until the bottom half of the fifth when the Seminoles touched the triangle twice for a 4-2 advantage.  Cole Hughey hit a line-drive to left, and Tucker Hood reached on an error in right field.  With no outs and with runners on first and third, Stringer’s Jackson Parker relieved Davis on the mound.  Wardlaw punched a hit to Dyess at second, and he attempted to cut the run at the plate, but Hughey scored.  Later in the frame, with one out, Keebler hit into a fielder’s choice out at first, but Hood scored from third.  Jackson Parker eventually got the Devils out of the situation with a strikeout, his second of the frame. 

Stringer threatened with two outs in the top of the sixth.  Jackson Parker and Jake Parker both walked, and Bridges running for Jackson Parker, and Jake Parker put together a double steal to land runners on second and third.  But Smithville’s Johnson ended the inning with a strikeout.

Stringer got three quick outs in the bottom of the sixth, but after an Evan Holifield lead-off walk in the top of the seventh, Johnson fanned three Stringer batters to end the game. 

Stringer will not see Johnson again in the series, and will look to Andrew Nix on the mound Friday, in a game set to begin at 10 a.m. at Trustmark Park, to push the Seminoles to a game three Saturday.

“We weren’t fully equipped pitching-wise [in game one]; we didn’t have our number one guy [Nix due to prior to the day pitch count], but what we have now is Andrew Nix ready to go tomorrow,” Weathers explained.  “We threw some guys today and kept them under a certain [pitch] count.  That way they can throw tomorrow, and they can throw in game three, if we are able to get by tomorrow.”

The Red Devils have been in similar series situations before this season, down one game in a three-game series, and Weathers expects a good response from his team in game two Friday morning.

“To coach a group like this is special.  They know it’s a three-game series, and this is just one game.  We’ve been down one game to nothing before, and have come back.  I expect these guys to respond well because they always do,” he said.

(Article by Heath Walley)

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