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Johnston, Wilson stymie Gowanda to claim Class C

While Wilson second baseman Casey Sidote awaits the throw at left, Gowanda’s Brayden Smith steals second base during Sunday’s Section VI Class C championship baseball game at Diethrick Park in Jamestown. OBSERVER Photo by Scott Kindberg

JAMESTOWN — Upon reaching the pitcher’s mound to start the bottom of the seventh inning Sunday afternoon, Tyler Johnston squatted down and bowed his head.

“I was just trying to calm my heartbeat down,” he said.

Mission accomplished, from start to finish.

Johnston allowed three hits, struck out 12, hit a batter and didn’t issue a walk to lead No. 5 Wilson to a 3-1 victory over No. 2 Gowanda in the Section VI Class C championship game at Diethrick Park.

The win advances the Lakemen (14-7) into the Far West Regional at 7 p.m. Friday at Salamanca High School against the Section V champion.

Gowanda second baseman Carson Huch slides to field a groundball during Sunday’s Section VI Class C championship baseball game at Diethrick Park in Jamestown. OBSERVER Photo by Scott Kindberg

Guess who will likely be on the bump for Wilson in that game?

Johnston.

Good luck.

Section VI’s all-time single-season and career strikeout leader gave up an unearned run in the second inning, but was otherwise dominant, sending the Lakemen to their first sectional crown since 1996.

“He’s around the plate, that’s the biggest thing,” Wilson coach Bill Atlas said. “Yeah, he has a couple more miles per hour than some other people, but he doesn’t walk anybody.”

Gowanda shortstop Blake Herman charges a groundball during Sunday’s Section VI Class C championship baseball game at Diethrick Park in Jamestown. OBSERVER Photo by Scott Kindberg

Yet, with a different bounce of the ball on Sunday, defending champion Gowanda (16-6) may have returned home with the championship plaque. But a couple of miscues defensively led to all three Wilson runs, which was all Johnston needed.

Ironically, had the sectional title game been played 24 hours earlier as scheduled, Johnston would have been ineligible to pitch (due to the pitch-limit rule), but once Mother Nature made it necessary to wait 24 hours, the extra day allowed him to take the ball.

That wasn’t lost on Panthers’ coach Tim Smith, who said he was told by Section VI that the game was “100 percent” going to be played Saturday at Diethrick Park or be moved to Frontier High School.

“It would have been an advantage (for Gowanda had Johnston not pitched),” he said. “Obviously, he’s one of the best pitchers in Western New York. Hat’s off to him. He pitched a heck of a game.”

Coach Smith continued: “It’s one of those things that as a higher seed that’s what you’re supposed to earn and I do feel that they took that away from us, because, all of a sudden, once the rain hit here, talk of moving the game to Frontier was totally squashed … even though they moved the Clarence and Williamsville North location to a place with lights and another turf field. But they refused to do that for us even though we were told for two days that it would happen, so it was a bit crushing.”

Gowanda’s center fielder Brayden Smith camps under a flyball during Sunday’s Section VI Class C championship baseball game at Diethrick Park in Jamestown. OBSERVER Photo by Scott Kindberg

Atlas said his understanding for not moving the game was because “it got too late.”

“They had (Frontier) secured,” he said. “If they made the decision at noon, I think it would have been good. We got to 2:30-3 o’clock and I think it was just too tough. It is what it is.”

What everyone could agree on, though, was Johnston’s performance.

Three days after tossing a complete game in a 3-2 semifinal win over top-seeded Frewsburg, the junior right-hander allowed only a double to Carter Capozzi in the first inning, a single to Logan Ruff in the third and a single by Brayden Smith in the sixth. Ruff scored Gowanda’s lone run in the second inning when, after smacking a single to left field with one out, he advanced to third on Johnston’s errant pickoff throw and raced home following a passed ball.

After that, the Panthers had just one player reach second base.

Wilson winning pitcher Tyler Johnston delivers to the plate during Sunday’s Section VI Class C championship baseball game at Diethrick Park in Jamestown. OBSERVER Photo by Scott Kindberg

Wilson tied the game in the fourth inning off losing pitcher Blake Herman. With one out, Johnston singled to right, moved to second on an error and to third on a balk. Tyler Durow’s fielder’s choice plated Johnston for the Lakemen’s first run.

In the fifth inning, Herman — who allowed just two hits and struck out 11 in five innings before being relieved by Capozzi — appeared to retire the side in order via three strikeouts, but a passed ball on a third strike allowed Colton Frerichs to reach first base. Ryan Hough followed with a walk, Blake Simpson smacked an RBI single to center and Hough scored the second run of the inning on another passed ball.

“Obviously, Blake was fantastic,” Coach Smith said. “He had the strikeout to end the inning and it got away and the runner got on. That’s where two of the runs came to take the lead. I think the bigger thing about that is that ended up forcing him to throw another 20 pitches that inning. He was tired. … We shot ourselves in the foot. Defensively we’ve been playing very well all year and there were a couple different mistakes on the field that got us.”

Armed with a two-run lead, Johnston took care of the rest.

The Niagara University commit, who now has 362 career strikeouts, including 148 this season, fanned the final batter with a runner at first to end the game, setting off quite an infield celebration by the Lakemen.

Gowanda’s Blake Herman delivers to the plate during Sunday’s Section VI Class C championship baseball game at Diethrick Park in Jamestown. OBSERVER Photo by Scott Kindberg

“This is just putting us on the map,” Johnston said. “I feel like we were an underdog pretty much the whole year.”

And now the Lakemen will make another trip to the Southern Tier later this week for the Far West Regional.

“I might buy a house down here, at least get an apartment,” Atlas said with a smile.

For Gowanda, which was making its fifth straight appearance in the sectional final, it returns all but one player next season.

“It’s not going to just happen,” Coach Smith said. “We’re going to have to put the work in between now and then, hopefully get better and come out on the opposite end of this one in the same spot next year. That’s the plan.”

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