By TJ MAXWELL
Two clutch hits by second baseman Cedric Camacho from the sixth-spot in the lineup was all junior hurler Cameron Johnson would need to secure the victory with his no-hitter performance through 6 2/3 innings of action at home Tuesday in a 2-0 win over the Ellison Eagles.
The junior righty gave up a few free bases to put runners in scoring position in the third and fifth innings before quelling the threat with strikeouts on both occasions as part of his 12 strike out performance.
“I felt pretty good,” said Johnson. “I thought the defense did really well and Cedric came through with those clutch hits. Without that defense, the no-hitter wouldn’t have been possible.
“I was spotting up that fastball and it seemed like they really couldn’t catch up to it so I was trying to use it to my advantage and let the defense work for me.”
He did just that with four induced fly outs and two groundouts to go with his 12 Ks.
“He had a heck of a game,” said Cove head baseball coach Dusty Brittain. “He threw strikes and that’s what I told him going into it. I said, ‘we can’t give them a whole bunch of free passes.’
“It wasn’t perfect but when he’s pounding the zone like that, he’s hard to hit. I wish he could have got out of it and got that one more out but he competed and that was huge.”
Due to a change in the rules that instated a 110 pitch-count, Johnson had to exit the game one out away from a complete-game, no-hit, shutout.
“That’s that new rule, said Johnson. “I knew I was high with 99 pitches whenever I went out there for the seventh. I tried to throw the least amount of pitches I could but it didn’t work out for me. I’m still proud of how it went though.”
Johnson got run support from deep in the lineup when Camacho came up with clutch hits with runners on in the fourth and sixth innings to knock home the only two runs needed in the shutout.
“He just has a great approach at the plate,” Brittain said of Camacho. “He doesn’t swing at bad pitches and waits for his opportunity. He’s not going to hit the ball over the wall but he comes through with two big hits there. Tonight, especially late, there was nobody else I wanted up besides him. I’m proud of the kid. He works hard and his hard work paid off.”
Struggling from the plate with seven hitless games leading into last week’s sweep of Shoemaker where he went 4 for 6 in the series, Camacho just heeded his coaches’ advice.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” he said. “I’ve been struggling but my coaches tell me to keep being aggressive, get your pitch, be ahead in the count and just swing you heart out. I was just trying to get ahead of the count, look for that fastball and put a good swing on it.”
He did just that with a two-out RBI single to left centerfield that plated Tyler Ingram, who also connected on a two-out single to reach.
“After Tyler’s hit, we got the game rolling,” said Camacho. “With two outs, we obviously had to come in clutch and I was just trying to be aggressive and come up clutch for the team and I came out with the RBI both times.
Similarly, Ingram connected on single in the sixth inning before Camacho knocked in an insurance run in Josh Ropple after he reached on a fielder’s choice that put out Ingram at second.
“He threw me a curve actually and I was out front and just got a good bat on the ball,” said Camacho.
The Dawgs only managed six hits in the contest but they came in bunches and Brittain knows that’s why they won.
The Dawgs put down four hits in the fourth inning beginning with a leadoff single by sophomore Colby Jost and followed three in a row by Ingram, Ropple and the Camacho RBI.
The Dawgs ran themselves out of another run in the inning on a hit-and-run attempt where Jost was thrown down by the rifle of Ellison senior catcher Garet Douglas.
“We got a few hits put together,” said Brittain. “I kind of kick myself for not bunting. Then when we got the leadoff guy on, it would have gotten us at least one more run. Stringing (hits) together is what it takes, especially against guys like (Preston Mills). He pitched well tonight and with somebody like Douglas behind the plate, it kills the run game so you’ve got to string hits together. Those three in a row were huge for us to get the cushion.”
Camacho was 2 for 2 with 2RBIs and a walk to lead the Cove bats while Ingram was 2 for 3 with a run, Ropple was 1 for 3 with a run and Jost was 1 for 3 to complete the Dawgs contributions at the plate.
Johnson picked up the win from the mound. He had six walks and a hit batsman to go with his 12 strikeouts and no-hitter. Ingram picked up the save with a strikeout of the final batter.
Mills picked up the loss. He surrendered two runs (one earned) on six hits while striking three and walking one in six innings of work.
The Dawgs (10-8, 3-2 in District 8-6A) look to string their fourth-consecutive win together when they travel to Ellison (9-11-1, 2-3) tonight for game two of the home-away series.
“It’s all about execution,” said Brittain. “That’s what it boils down to. We have to make the plays when we have the opportunity. We’ve got our guy going on the mound but so do they. We have got to go out there and put up runs. That’s as simple as it can be. We have to put up runs early and often. We need to execute with two-out hits like we did tonight, getting leadoff guys on and we’ll be fine.”
Johnson feels they need to just rinse and repeat.
“We just need to do the same as tonight,” he said. “We need to have Jaylen throw a good game and we need our bats need to come alive.”
Brittain feels the home-away series gives his team a better chance to compete and better playoff-type atmosphere all year to more prepare his team for the postseason series.
“I think we’re pretty comfortable with the way this schedule works because I think we have the pitching to compete,” he said after the win. “Every single game in this district will be down to the wire. I’m itching to see who won in the other games. Every single day we’re going to have to go out and compete. It’s good for these kids and I think they relish that. They love the opportunity to play in those kinds of games.”
They will get plenty more opportunities to test that theory as the Dawgs will face San Angelo next week in home-away series with a road game at San Angelo on Tuesday, April 4 and at home on Friday, April 7 before finishing the slate with a pair each against Harker Heights, Killeen and Belton to finish the district schedule.
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