Polar Bears move to 7-0 in Federal League behind Taylor Johnson's pitching

GREEN  A third opponent emerged during Friday’s Jackson-Green high school baseball game.

The elements.

Mother Nature basically is undefeated this cold and wet spring. But thanks to Taylor Johnson’s steady pitching and Jackson avoiding the big mistakes that plagued Green, the Polar Bears at least were able to win the game 7-2 and stay perfect in Federal League play.

“I thought we handled the conditions really well,” Jackson head coach Bill Gamble said after his team improved to 12-4 overall and 7-0 in league play. “I think we saw all four seasons pretty much in the matter of an hour.”

Gamble is joking only slightly.

The game started at 4:59 with the sun shining down and calm conditions creating a picturesque scene that’s been absent most of this baseball season.

Within the first 30 minutes, the temperature dropped 10-15 degrees and strong wind gusts picked up — severe enough to blow Jackson first baseman Spencer Stanton’s hat off as he was receiving a throw, causing him to drop it.

Then the rains came — a cold, depressing precipitation that sent a decent crowd scurrying for cover.

By the final two innings, the skies cleared, the wind stopped and the temperature rose again.

The one constant through all of this was Johnson.

The junior right-hander improved to 3-1 by working six innings and allowing one run (unearned) on three hits. He walked two batters and hit one while striking out three.

“It was pretty interesting at first,” Johnson said of the conditions. “But I was able to find a groove early and I feel like I was throwing all my pitches for strikes. I had a lot of confidence in all my pitches.”

Johnson, who’s got a bit of a Thor look on the mound with his blond locks spilling out from under his hat, seemed completely unaffected by the wind and rain.

“He kept grinding and working through it,” Gamble said. “That’s what you look for in a team: Can you work through those things you can’t control?”

Johnson’s performance so far this season has cemented him as the Polar Bears’ No. 2 starter behind ace Yianni Skeriotis — an important development if Jackson is to continue the success it has enjoyed in recent years.

“It was definitely a goal,” Johnson said. “I wanted to play a big part for this team, and I think I’m doing pretty well so far.”

Green (9-8, 4-4), playing a league game for the third straight day, came unraveled in the fifth inning, during which some of the heaviest rain fell.

A Davis Graham RBI double, two Green errors and three straight walks resulted in a four-run frame for the Polar Bears, who surged ahead 5-1. All the runs scored with two outs, with two of them scoring on a wild throw.

“It was a tough inning because the weather kind of took a turn there,” Green head coach Jon Wallace said. “It wasn’t easy to fight through those elements. It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to make a play. You’ve got to avoid the crooked number. We weren’t able to do it.”

Green starter Ryan Black (0-2) appeared to have Graham picked off second base with the score 2-1, but Graham was called safe. Wallace declined to comment on the play.

Ethan Kulich went 2-for-2 with a double and a run scored to lead Jackson’s balanced offense. Petey Taylor and Trey Wright had RBI singles for the Polar Bears.

Gamble was just as happy with his “role dudes” as his frontline starters.

For example, Matt Hallworth entered the game in the fifth and worked a bases-loaded walk to force in a run. Jake Aleman came off the bench to make a diving catch in left field during the seventh inning.

“Those are the things I like seeing,” Gamble said, “because that tells me we’re locked in.”


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