Prep baseball: Johnson ignites Tigers to stunner over Beavers


TENINO — Jake Johnson pitched just two innings for Centralia High School’s baseball team prior to Tuesday afternoon and those were in relief.

His first start? Only against one of the remaining unbeatens in the sport and staring down an offense that was averaging nine runs a game.

“He logged a lot of innings over the summer,” Tigers head coach Jake LeDuc said.

Johnson spun one of the best games of his life.

The right-hander allowed just two hits, one earned run and induced plenty of weak contact in leading Class 2A Centralia to a 3-1 non-league triumph over 1A Tenino at Tenino High School.

“I’m very proud today,” Johnson said. “I haven’t pitched this well in a long time. I’ve never done this well against a really good hitting team, just make them not hit at all.”

Suffering two bone-crushing losses to Evergreen Conference foes Shelton that featured one inning getting away from the Tigers, they responded emphatically to dispatch of the previously unblemished Beavers.

To the surprise of no one in the dugout.

“We’re not satisfied, we got to get (wins),” outfielder Cohen Ballard said. “If we came in here acting like we got crapped on last night, it would have went somewhere different. We came in knowing we are a good baseball team.” 

Most of the praise afterwards landed on Johnson’s shoulders.

The sophomore retired 10 batters in a row after giving up a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth inning. Back-to-back times he stranded a Tenino runner 90 feet from home and retired the next three hitters.

After giving up the only run in the first on an RBI single by Tenino’s Austin Gonia, Johnson allowed just three runners to reach base when he departed with one out in the seventh. He used a balance of his curveball and fastball to limit the Beavers’ explosiveness.

“I knew if I threw fastballs they’re going to hit home runs every time,” Johnson said. “I’ve been down in the dumps with (my curveball). They weren’t expecting all these curveballs.”

Coaches and teammates made sure to give Johnson his flowers in the post-game huddle.

“He is always working the hardest in practice,” Ballard said. “Nobody knows him, but you guys will know him soon.”

“He pitched his butt off,” LeDuc added. “We need to pitch backwards. We were very unconventional in where we threw pitches. Nobody is looking for a 3-1 curveball.”

Centralia (3-6) scored first on an infield error – one of three by Tenino on the day – then broke a tie on another mishap.

The Beavers tried to turn a double play in the fifth, but the throw from second to first went off Kellan Knox’s glove and Ballard raced home to take a 2-1 lead.

Then in the seventh, Ballard launched a solo home run over the left field fence to double the cushion.

“I saw it floating and I was like ‘OK, I’m going to rip this,’” Ballard said.

Tenino (11-1) brought the winning run to the plate in Will Feltus with two on and two outs. Relief pitcher Marcus Miller fired an inside fastball for a called strike three to end the game.

For the first time, the Beavers were on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

“We have had the mentality that we are really good and it came back to bite us today,” Tenino head coach Ryan Schlesser said. “We can’t just show up and win. We’re not good enough for that.

Brady Sprague finished with three hits and Miller roped a double for the Tigers, who play two more non-league games against Castle Rock and Montesano on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

“We have to have that fire in us,” Johnson said.

Feltus swiped four bases and Jack Burkhardt struck out seven in five innings of work. Tenino will try to regroup when it takes on Elma in a league doubleheader on Saturday afternoon.

“If you want to find a silver lining, our pitching,” Schlesser said. “I’m hoping this is a little wake-up call for us. We will find out this weekend, if we can come out and respond, that will say a lot.”