The North Johnston baseball team, one night after having its impressive 12-game win streak snapped, needed to regroup for a pivotal game against Farmville Central Wednesday night in order to stay alive in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Plains 2A Conference.
The Panthers needed to look no further than senior pitcher Mike Stott for momentum as the right-hander helped the hosts flip the switch and take down the Jaguars, 6-0, to move to within a half game of the league leaders.
The win gave North Johnston (16-4, 7-2) the season sweep over Farmville Central, setting the stage for the Panthers’ final game of the regular season against Southwest Edgecombe knowing a win would lead to a share of the conference championship.
“For as terrible as we played yesterday, the kids just went in there and it’s just the temperament of these kids; they’ve learned that they’ve got to put that game away and go to the next one,” North Johnston coach Brian Ford said. “For them to flip the switch from last night to tonight like they did, I’m very excited about that.”
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Stott made sure that Farmville Central (15-8, 8-2) didn’t get off to a fast start and tamed the aggressive-minded Jaguar bats with a good mix of curve balls and fastballs, while also alternating locations.
Farmville Central entered the contest having scored 74 runs in its first nine conference games, only to be shutout by Stott while mustering four total hits including just one that found its way to the outfield.
Stott was in complete control in earning his eighth victory of the season. He struck out eight batters and walked none in the complete game shutout.
The Jaguars managed to move a runner to third base just once the entire game and Stott quickly snatched any hope the visitors had of scratching out a run when he closed out the top of the fourth with a strikeout that stranded two base runners.
“I know they can hit the ball really good and score some runs—that’s what they’ve been doing all year,” said Stott. “I just threw strikes and got my stuff working early in the game. I established my fastball and got my curve ball over and kept them off-balance.”
For North, Blake McLean led off the bottom of the first with a single to left and later scored on a Farmville Central throwing error for an early one-run advantage.
Stott helped his own cause with a two-run single in the third that plated Dallas Krob and Dylan Radford. Krob’s RBI single in the fourth was immediately followed by Radford’s RBI triple, making the score 5-0. Holden Hales ended the scoring in the sixth when he drove home Chad Little on a base hit to right field.
Owning the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Jaguars thanks to the season sweep, a North Johnston win on Thursday night over Southwest Edgecombe would propel the Panthers to the No. 1 seed for playoff purposes.
“We’ve got to finish what we’ve started,” Ford said in anticipation of his club’s final conference game. “We have come a long, long way so we need to finish what we started. The process started tonight and we’re going to try to finish it.”