After making it all the way to the World Series last year, the Johnston junior league all-stars punched their ticket to the state tournament once again with a decisive 7-1 victory over Edgewood Saturday afternoon, capturing the district one championship.
Johnston was led by pitcher Korey Fijal, who went the distance in a complete game effort. He allowed just one unearned run on two hits to go along with 10 strikeouts.
Johnston maanger Joe Santilli knew what he was going to get out of his hurler and praised his ability to execute pitches.
“The whole game he was on,” Santilli said. “He only had one walk the whole game. His command of the strike zone was perfect. Everything was working, but that’s what we expect from him. He hasn’t pitched at all throughout this tournament because we held him for this game purposely and he stepped up and did an awesome job.”
The Johnston offense was able to jump on Edgewood right from the get-go, putting the ball in play and capitalizing on three crucial errors by Edgewood. Johnston managed seven runs on only six hits in their victory, but was able to draw eight walks in the game.
“We can do much better than that,” Santilli said. “We’re a better hitting team. We know we are and we know what we have to work on. They’re a better hitting team than they were today and they’re going to show that coming up in the states.”
Johnston got on the board first in the bottom of the first inning when Mike Caparco drew a leadoff walk and then came home on a double by shortstop John Willette. Willette then came around to score on a double off the bat of Fijal, giving Johnston a 2-0 lead.
Johnston increased their lead in the second when third baseman Matt Kennedy tagged and scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by Nick Raposo, making it a 3-0 game.
They were able to break open a relatively close game in the third when Jacob Podmaska singled and then was able to score on a fielder’s choice, before Armani Henderson and Mark Conte were able to score from second and third on a costly error by the Edgewood shortstop, putting the game out of reach and giving Johnston a 6-0 cushion.
Edgewood’s lone run came in the fifth inning when a runner was caught in a rundown due to a big lead in between second and third, but a throwing error in the rundown allowed the Edgewood runner to come all the way around to score, cutting their deficit to 7-1. But it proved to be too much for Edgewood to make up.
Santilli knows what his team needs to do to give them a shot in repeating as state champs.
“Cut down on our errors,” Santilli said. “Our pitching has been beautiful. We only allowed one run (unearned) in three games. So our pitching’s on, we just have to tighten up the defense a little and definitely start hitting more.”
Johnston will begin their title run this weekend, as they begin state tournament play and will look to capture back-to-back state championships.