LIMA – Lima Locos leadoff hitter Jeremy Johnson (Auburn) finds ways to get on base.
By the ninth inning, he had already reached by a single and was hit by a pitch twice.
With the game on the line, he did it again.
Johnson’s walk-off walk on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded in the home ninth lifted the Locos to a 4-3 victory over Licking County in Game 1 of the best-of-three semifinal series Wednesday at Simmons Field.
“This is huge,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to win any way we can, whether it’s three games or two games. It’s good to be one game closer to our goal.”
The Locos lead the Great Lakes Collegiate League series 1-0, as the teams head to Newark today for Game 2.
During the season, Johnson was hit by a pitch a team-record 17 times and ranked third in the league in on-base percentage at .459. He also batted. 368.
“Honestly, I was just trying to put the ball in play, but I knew it had to be a good at-bat,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t swing at pitches out of the zone. … I like to trust my eye and trust what pitch is coming and did my best to battle the close pitches.”
The Locos led 3-1 entering the eighth, but Licking scored two unearned runs in the eighth to tie the game at 3.
“Playoffs, I don’t care what the win looks like,” Locos coach Chad Ehrnsberger said. “All that matters is you get the ‘W.’ Hopefully we can carry this momentum over to tomorrow.”
In the home ninth Jason Sullivan worked a walk with one out. Ross Adolph then doubled to left-center field to put runners at second and third. Daino Deas was walked intentionally to load the bases.
David Chabut put down a bunt, but Licking first baseman Kyle Hubbuch gobbled it up and fired home to get Sullivan on a force out at the plate.
That set up Johnson’s two-out, game-winning at-bat.
Locos starter Ryan Cyr (Mississippi State) dominated the strike zone. He went 7 1/3 innings and gave up three runs, one earned, on four hits. He struck out four and walked one. He threw 83 pitches, 54 for strikes.
Of the 27 batters Cyr faced, he threw 17 first-pitch strikes. He used a fastball, change-up, curveball and slider.
“I don’t find glory in walking people,” Cyr said. “So getting ahead is the main thing because if you give the other team free bases, you’re asking the other team to take advantage and I’m not about that.”
Ehrnsberger said, “Cyr has that mentality of being a bulldog. That’s how he goes about pitching and that’s what you need in a Game 1 starter.”
The Locos took a 2-0 lead in the first. Leadoff hitter Johnson was hit by a pitch, stole second and then stole third. When the throw to third from Licking catcher Robert Emery ended up in left field, Johnson came home with a run.
Kevin Woodall walked, went to second on a groundout and came home on an RBI single to left by DayFran Ortiz. That gave the Locos a 2-0 lead.
Licking got within 2-1 in the second.
The Locos made it 3-1 in fifth on a sacrifice fly to center by Woodall.
Licking tied the game at 3 in the eighth on a two-out, two-run single to center by Hubbuch.
Austin Cox picked up the win with 1 1/3 shutout, one-hit innings. He gave up the game-tying hit in the eighth, but came back to put the Settlers down in the ninth, 1-2-3, all on strikeouts.
Locos notes: Locos left-hander Connor Curlis (Ohio State/Findlay) was named the GLCL pitcher of the year and the pitching prospect of the year. This year he went 6-0 with a 1.06 ERA. Locos who were named to the GLCL first team were infielder Jason Sullivan (Central Michigan), outfielder Jeremy Johnson (Auburn), outfielder Jared Nixon (Alabama-Birmingham), Curlis and closer Nick Spear (Mercer).
Named to the second team were pitchers Brad Croy (Bowling Green State/Ottawa-Glandorf), Cas Silber (High Point), Ryan Cyr (Mississippi State) and Austin Cox (Mercer).
Next up: Game 2 in the best-of-three series is at 7:05 tonight at Don Edwards Field in Newark. Curlis will start for the Locos tonight.
The Lima News sports department can be reached at 567-242-0451.