Amateur Baseball: Johnson locks down Hawks
At this point, Red Wing pitcher Aaron Johnson has lost count of how many times he’s faced the Hastings Hawks.
But none of his games against Hastings were as important as Friday’s outing.
Playing in the final game of a best-of-three series, Johnson struck out 11 and allowed just two hits and a walk to put the Aces into the second round of the Section 1B tournament with a 3-0 victory at the Red Wing Athletic Field.
“This was a do-or-die game for us,” Johnson said after securing the complete-game shutout victory. “As good a season as we’ve had all year, we did not want it to end tonight.”
Taking the three-game series against Hastings, third-seeded Red Wing heads to Jack Ruhr Field on Sunday to take on the second-seeded Mudhens.
After blowing a five-run lead to the Hawks in Game 2 Tuesday, the Aces came into Friday’s game with a chip on their shoulder. Sixth-seeded Hastings had given Red Wing all it could handle over the first two games, so the Aces were ready to take care of business early.
“I don’t think anyone felt good after Tuesday. That took a lot out of us,” said Red Wing co-manager Andy Gibart. “It was good to have a couple days off before this game because on Wednesday and Thursday, we were still feeling it in the pit of our stomach.”
Needing some early offense to ease the tension, catcher/co-manager Jimmy Bohmbach provided the early spark for Red Wing with a two-run opposite-field single that brought home Adam Thygesen and Steve Boldt in the bottom of the first.
“Right away, (Hawks pitcher Deryk Marks) was getting inside on everyone,” Bohmbach said. “So I just waited and got a pitch I wanted.”
The Aces nearly added onto the lead in the second with runners on first and third. But the Hawks got out of the frame unscathed with an inning-ending double play.
Meanwhile, Johnson kept dealing on the mound, striking out five and allowing two hits over the first three innings.
In two starts against Hastings in the playoffs, Johnson accumulated 26 strikeouts. But after allowing eight hits in Game 1, the Aces made a defensive change that paid huge dividends.
“We had good defensive changes, and the biggest part of that was playing a shallow outfield,” Gibart said. “Most of their hits on Sunday were little bleeders past the infield, so we were able to stop some of those this time around.
“But Aaron deserves all the credit,” Gibart added. “He is the definition of an ace, and he will take us as far as we can go in the playoffs.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Red Wing’s offense got rolling again thanks to consecutive one-out singles by Dave Jenson and Ty Buck. Then with two outs, Adam Thygesen clipped a hard grounder through the right side of the infield to score Jenson, giving the Aces a three-run cushion.
“Getting those runs made things a lot easier for us,” Gibart said. “We loosened up from it, and we needed that to be able to put this game away.”
Going 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI on Friday, Thygesen went 8-for-12 with five runs, two RBI and two doubles over the course of the three-game series.
Meanwhile, Johnson cruised over the final six innings, retiring 18 of the final 20 batters of the game, all without giving up a hit.
“Aaron and I were on the same page for the most part tonight,” Bohmbach said. “It’s pretty fun, no, it’s really fun to catch for him. When he’s keeping guys off-balance and striking people out, there’s no one better.”
The Aces finished with 10 hits, with Bohmbach and Boldt going 2-for-4 at the place. Kyle Blahnik, Jenson, Buck and Mike Stegora also tallied singles in the victory.
Marks and Jordan Jeske both tagged singles for Hastings in the loss.
With a repeat trip to state still in the mix, the Aces know they are in for a challenge against their Classic Cannon Valley League rivals starting on Sunday.
“Our goal was to get to Miesville,” Gibart said. “That’s what we live for in this section; to battle with the Mudhens to get into the super section. It should be an intense, fun series.”