By Gene Renfro
MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Ryan Mahala pitched Johnson County past top-seeded Elizabethton Saturday in a semifinal game of the District 1-AA baseball tournament contest by a 3-1 score.
The junior Longhorn hurler scattered six hits that led to an unearned run. He did walk four, but struck out six over seven innings on the mound.
“I was pretty confident that it would be a close game, but I didn’t know if I would win or lose,” Mahala said. “I knew that I’d beaten (Sullivan) East and Unicoi County and I knew that Elizabethton hadn’t faced me. I thought that I’d do pretty well.”
Late he was effective as he threw no-hit ball for the final four innings, however the Cyclones worked two walks out of him. He walked two and kept a runner stranded at third in the fourth.
“Just what he’s been doing all year,” Johnson County head coach Pete Pavusek said about his pitcher. “Just going out there throwing strikes and had a tight strikezone to throw in. He battled and kept them off balanced over the last three innings.”
Mahala, with an 8-1 record from the mound, was mixing his fast ball, change up and knuckleball to the Cyclone hitters.
“You can’t take much away from Mahala. He threw a great game,” Elizabethton head coach Joe Nix said. “He took us out of our comfort zone. We didn’t see much confidence all the way around. Just didn’t look like we expected to win a ball game today.”
With the outcome, Johnson County moved into today’s winners’ bracket final at 4 p.m. The Longhorns, the No. 4 seed, will take a 14-9 record and face off with Unicoi County, a 3-2 winner over Sullivan East on Saturday.
Elizabethton, the Three Rivers Conference regular-season champion, has a Monday losers’ bracket semifinal contest at 6 p.m. The Cyclones are 22-8 after the game.
The Longhorns started the game with three straight hits off the Cyclones’ Austin Smith. Lead-off hitter Judd Hammons doubled to left center before Dusty Stout’s RBI single to center. Daniel Helm singled back through the middle. A passed ball moved the runners up and a wild pitch allowed Stout to score the second Johnson County run. Harley Reece then grounded out to short for a RBI.
Hammons and Helm each went 2-for-4.
Elizabethton got a run in the bottom of the first when Wes Montgomery came in on a passed ball. He was on after a one-out single to right and moved all the way to third on a fielding error by River Cazire on the hit.
Montgomery powered out two hits, the only multi-hit effort from the black and orange.
Austin Smith went the distance for the Cyclones from the mound. He surrendered seven hits. Four of those hits were in the final six frames. Smith struck out three and hit another Longhorn.
“It’s a good one, it’s got to be up there near the top,” Pavusek said about the victory.
In the Longhorns’ final at bat third baseman Andy Stout was ejected on a strikeout. For the next two games Stout will be out of the Johnson County line up.
Johnson Co. 300 000 0 — 3 7 1
Elizabethton 100 000 0 — 1 6 4
Mahala and Hampton, Smith. Smith and Miller.