The Johnson City High School baseball team defeated Burton 2-1 in the best-of-three Class 2A Region IV semifinal series May 19-20.
The Eagles (22-7, 10-0 District 28-2A champions) will face Kenedy (20-5, District 31-2A champion) in the Class 2A Region IV championship with date, site and time still to be announced.
Johnson City head coach Steven Shipley commended Burton for pushing his team. The Eagles won game one 15-14 and game three 6-1 and lost game two 12-4.
“They were very, very good,” he said.
Johnson City coaches were very meticulous in how they used the pitching staff. Junior McCray Jacobs got the nod in the opener and threw about 33 pitches to help the Eagles take a 12-0 lead after three innings. The decision was made to bring in a middle reliever and save McCray for another outing in the same series since pitchers are limited to 110 pitches per week.
Burton responded by outscoring the Eagles 12-3 in the fourth and fifth innings to trail 13-12. That’s when McCray stepped back on the mound.
“For game one, we knew we had to keep our pitchers available for game two,” the coach said. “We felt like we were going to keep scoring runs. And we felt like we were going to outhit them with the guys they had as well. (McCray) came back in with bases loaded. I think we were up 13-12. We scored and left guys on base.”
The Eagles scored two runs in the fifth to extend their lead to 15-12. The Panthers plated two runs in the top of the seventh inning.
“There was a lightning delay and McCray had thrown 108 pitches,” Shipley said. “During the delay we told Johnny to get ready. Johnny threw two pitches, and we got out with a 15-14 win.”
Jacobs struck out 11 in 5 2/3 innings.
The next day, Johnson City senior pitcher Ryan Shipley threw seven complete innings.
“If we could have saved McCray at 33 pitches, we could have started (sophomore pitcher) Johnny (Slawinski) in game two,” the coach said. “Even if their better pitcher holds us down, we have to win one out of two. With those guys, we liked our chances. We had a good plan, and this was the plan the whole time. McCray pitching game one put us back into our plan. “
Because Burton had to win the second game to have a shot at winning the series, the Eagles knew the Panthers would start their top pitcher. Carson Lauter led the way to a 12-4 win though the Eagles didn’t go down without a fight.
Burton scored five runs in the second inning, which held until the fifth inning. That’s when Johnson City plated four runs, thanks to a 2 RBI hit by Tate Ledbetter to trail 5-1.
But the Panthers responded by scoring a run in their half of the inning and six more runs in the sixth inning. They had 12 hits. Pitcher Shipley struck out three in 5 2/3 innings.
“We put Ryan on the mound, and I told him to give us a chance,” the coach said. “We didn’t score in the sixth. Ryan had thrown 88 pitches. I asked him, ‘Do you want me to make a change?’ He said no. We were real close and had a chance to win that one.”
That meant that Slawinski started the third game with the Eagles’ season on the line. The sophomore had 15 strikeouts in seven innings.
“We got three outs in the first inning,” Shipley said. “We thought Ryan hit a home run. The ball bounced high. We had a 2-0 lead in the first with Johnny on the mound.”
He noted Burton competed with all it had.
“They were a good hitting team,” he said. “In game one, they scored 14 runs with no errors. It gives us confidence. I think in all three games, everyone in our line-up produced. We had kids who haven’t been producing. Some kids when they get in the playoffs, they’re trying to do too much. And their mindsets change. Our guys continued to make plays for us. Hopefully, we can keep doing that going forward.”
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