LAND O’ LAKES – Hernando had faced Pasco already twice in the regular season and both meetings ended in Leopard victories.
The Leopards beat the Pirates 4-1 back on Feb. 14 and easily cruised to a 10-4 win on March 11.
This time around, however, Pasco had different plans for the third encounter between the rivals.
Malik Johns was able to get key outs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, en route to a complete game and a 2-1 victory against Hernando Thursday night at Sunlake, in a semifinal of the Pasco-Hernando Farm Bureau Insurance Baseball Classic.
“Couldn’t get a hit in the opportune times tonight or it might be a 3-2 victory the other way,” Hernando coach Tim Sims said. “A couple routine-type plays in that crazy first inning. We had a double-play ball that should’ve gotten us out of it and that just didn’t happen. That was a typical Pasco-Hernando intensity type game.”
Johns pitched a strong game from start to finish, throwing 117 pitches and striking out eight Leopards in the process.
Pasco (7-3) took advantage of miscues made by Hernando in the bottom of the first inning, as both of the Pirates’ runs in the game came off of errors made in the infield. The Leopards’ two errors were the only ones they committed all game, but it proved costly in the end.
Hernando (13-2) had multiple opportunities to tie the contest up or even take the lead, and could not cash in.
Johns walked Kyle Kilbourne to load up the bases, but was able to strike out Andres Cabrera to end the threat in the top of the fifth. The Leopards threatened again in the sixth inning and came up empty once more.
Pasco only had five hits against Hernando’s Daniel Miller and Brad Ellis, whom combined to pitch the six innings. Hernando was only able to string together four hits on the night, but reached base four times via walks and two others on errors by Pasco.
Nonetheless, the Leopards left nine runners on base to end innings and their lone run was scored in the sixth inning when Tyler Ledington drove in Tyler Allen from third base.
“I knew if I was feeling it, I was going to go the whole game,” Johns added. “I wasn’t actually going to pitch this game, but coach asked me and I said, ‘Yeah, I want to throw.’ I’m a senior, so I’d rather it be in my hands than anybody else’s.”