FOUR OAKS — South Johnston has hosted a spring break baseball tournament for 23 years and loved every minute of it. But lately, the Trojans had become a bit too hospitable in the Johnston County Easter Invitational.
South Johnston, ranked fifth in the News & Observer area poll, ended that trend Tuesday night, downing Johnston County rival Clayton 7-3 to win the tournament championship for the first time since 2007 and an event record seventh time.
This doesnt count for conference championships or the playoffs, but championships are special regardless of the situation, South Johnston coach and alum Keith Durham said. We didnt have an easy path by any means, beating two ranked teams (Middle Creek and Corinth Holders) to get to the championship, then beating a county rival that always plays us tough that was on a heck of a tear.
Clayton (8-6), winners of seven straight, grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second on an RBI groundout by Hunter Poole and Kyle Solomons RBI single.
It wasnt the start that South Johnston and standout pitcher Lane Johnson wanted.
We kept battling and we got it back, said Johnson, who was named the John Stott Memorial MVP of the tournament. I was struggling at times but I kept grinding it out every pitch and every out because I knew I had great guys behind me making plays.
The Trojans (10-3) controlled things on the scoreboard the rest of the way. Ryan Underwood and Bailey Coe singled in runs in the bottom of the fourth to pull even, then
In the fifth, South Johnston started a rally when Austin Raynor reached on a dropped third strike and later scored after singles by Will Raynor - who was 9-for-13 at the plate in the event - and Johnson.
The Trojans Will Dupree followed with a three-run blast over the right-field fence at Bruce Coats Field for a sudden 6-2 South Johnston advantage.
Coe added another RBI single later in the inning for the Trojans seventh run.
Their kid pitched very well and they took advantage when we made a mistake, Clayton coach Stacey Houser said. But the things we did in the last seven games dont go away with this loss. We can build on what weve done of late because weve shown ourselves that we can be a successful team.
Clayton, which had won the event five times previously, threatened to get back in the game in the sixth loading the bases and cutting the lead to 7-3 on an infield single by Kyle Solomon, but South Johnston second baseman Austin Pope ran down a ball to his left and got the force out at first base to end the inning.
(Ryan) Underwood made some stops in the hole; Austin Pope made a great play in the hole with the bases loaded; (Josh) Stikeleather up the middle, Durham said. And (Ryan) Perez behind the plate, battling cramps all night. All the guys were just huge. They played like champions.
Johnson went the distance for his sixth win of the season in seven decisions. He picked up the save in the tournament-opening win over defending N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A state champion Middle Creek.
Best: 919-524-8895; @dclaybest