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The emerging story of the sixth annual Golden Leaf Invitational high school baseball tournament is the pitching of West Johnston.
The 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference Wildcats got a second straight mound gem as they remained unscored upon in the tournament with a 2-0 defeat of host Hunt on Monday at Sid Boyette Field. After senior Ryan Kennedy threw six scoreless innings in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Fayetteville Freedom Christian, senior Josh Harlow followed suit with another masterful mound performance Monday. Harlow gave up one hit and walked three while striking out nine as West Johnston moved to 16-4 overall and 2-0 in the Golden Leaf with its fifth shutout of the season.
“He filled it up and he had some higher pitch-count games early on but he battled today and was able to fill it up,” Wildcats head coach Josh Plisko said. “In the bullpen he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to come right out of the gate and give it to you.’ And he gave me the best effort today so I’m really proud of him. And (catcher) Peyton Richards, back-to-back games here, really working hard for our guys behind the plate. So that’s good stuff!”
Hunt didn’t get a hit until junior Blake Daniels looped the first pitch from Harlow in the bottom of the fifth. That led to the biggest threat of the day for the 3-A Big East Conference Warriors (14-5) as Harlow walked Blaize Keen and hit Chase Waddell with a pitch to load the bases for Hunt’s leading hitter, junior Tyson Bass, with two outs. But Bass grounded out to Wildcats second baseman Landon Evans to end the uprising.
The previous inning, Harlow’s defense temporarily deserted him as consecutive errors allowed the first two Hunt batters, Waddell and Bass, to reach base. But a sacrifice bunt attempt by Jarrett Aycock was quickly scooped up by Harlow, who fired a strike to third baseman Connor Hill to cut down courtesy runner Slade Rand. Harlow then got a strikeout and a pop-up to end the inning.
“I’d love to have some at-bats back but he did what you’re supposed to do,” said Hunt head coach Jon Smith.
Lost in Harlow’s performance was a solid starting effort by Bass, who started out shakily but only allowed two base runners after the third inning.
The Wildcats got two hits off Bass in the first inning with Connor Ford, who had led off the game with a double off the glove of diving Hunt center fielder Trey Dail, scoring on designated hitter Jacob Simian.
Bass gave up two more singles in the second inning but pitched out of it. In the third, a lead-off double that bounced off the fence in right-center field by Richards and a single by Scott Carroll put Bass back in hot water. Siemion singled in Richards and the Wildcats were up 2-0 with two on and nobody out.
But then a ball that bounced around in front of Waddell behind the plate, prompted the West Johnston runners to attempt to move up a base. That proved to be a bad move, however, as Waddell gunned down Carroll at third base. Bass then struck out the next two Wildcats to end the inning.
Bass reached his pitch count after issuing a two-out walk in the seventh and turned the ball over to Daniels for the final out. Despite suffering his second loss against five wins, Bass was solid as he scattered eight hits, walked two and struck out nine.
“Just trying to get them to hit the ball because I know that we can make plays in the field. They hit it and made outs most of the time,” said Bass, who credited Smith for calling pitches that kept West Johnston batters off stride after the third.
“He’s pretty good about that kind of stuff, calling pitches. He’s pretty good at it,” Bass said.
Hunt got the tying run on board in each of the last two innings, including the seventh against Chase Moore, Harlow’s replacement after he maxed out on pitches. But the Warriors couldn’t get another hit.
“Tough teams beat tough pitchers and tough lineups and I think West Johnston’s got that and we’ve yet to do it, honestly,” Smith said. “I hope we can get that straightened out but we’ve got another opponent (North Johnston) tomorrow that’s going to challenge our toughness a little bit.”
The Wildcats will face Jamestown Ragsdale and another shutout could propel them to the Golden Leaf title in their first appearance.
“We have a pretty deep pitching staff and I feel like everybody competes throughout practices for their time to get called,” Plisko said. “So hopefully, when it’s someone’s number to get called tomorrow, we’re able to fill it up.”
Score by innings:
West Johnston 101 000 0 — 2
Hunt 000 000 0 — 0
WP-Josh Harlow 6 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 SO. LP-Tyson Bass (5-2) 6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO. S-Chase Moore 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS —West Johnston: Jacob Siemion 1-3, 2 RBIs; Scott Carroll 2-4; Peyton Richards 1-2, R, 2B, SB; Connor Ford 1-4, R, 2B. Hunt: Blake Daniels 1-3.