Johnson deals for Jefferson; Jesuit dispatches Clearwater

Jefferson senior Matthew Johnson struck out six, holding Hillsborough scoreless in the district semifinal win.

By Mike Camunas
Creative Director

TAMPA — Matthew Johnson was hyped.

That’s saying the least.

Saying the most? Let’s hear it straight from Johnson.

“The hypest game of my life,” Jefferson’s senior right-handed pitcher said following the Dragons’ 8-0 win over Hillsborough in the first 5A-7 semifinal at Hyer Family Park on Tuesday afternoon. “(Playing in) the playoffs, now we’re going to regionals — I’m ready.”

Johnson certainly was ready for his first start in 10 days, as he would pitch 6 2/3 shutout innings, strike out six while allowing seven hits and two walks over 103 pitches, as well as help his own cause by driving in a run.

Jefferson senior righty Matthew Johnson.

Johnson did want to finish off what he started, but Jefferson coach Spencer Nunez pulled him with two on and two outs in the seventh inning, letting Javier James finish off the game with a strikeout.

“Yeah,” Johnson said without hesitation, “I didn’t want to come out, but I had faith in my teammates and knew Javy could get it done and he did.”

“He came out and was a bulldog for us like he always is,” Nunez added of Johnson. “He was able to keep his composure and that’s what we tell all our pitchers: keep on your toes and keep your composure and when you’re hit with a little adversity, slap it in the face and keep going.”

Johnson’s faith in his teammates rewarded him with runs, but late in the game. Hillsborough starter, Salvy Urso, held the Dragons hitless through five innings.

Hillsborough junior pitcher Salvy Urso.

It wasn’t until the sixth that Jefferson (16-9) finally broke the scoreless game when James, who grabbed the first hit to open the inning, dove home on a sac bunt by Yaidel Perez. Then in the seventh, the Dragons piled on seven more runs to give Johnson a padded lead. Yadiel Perez and Jaiden Duarte would drive in three runs combined and Charles Fowler would also come home, scoring an emphatic run in a hotly-contested, chirpy game that saw emotions get the best of both sides several times.

Dragons senior Javier James scores the game’s first run.

However, cooler heads would prevail in this unforgiving rivalry, and Jefferson would avenge going 0-2 vs. the Terriers (16-11) during the regular season: a pair of one-run games back in March.

After the win, Nunez said the win is one he is proud of and one he knows his father, Pat, an area baseball coach who passed away in December of last year, would have loved.

“I’ve been telling them from the start, from Day 1 of practice,” Nunez said, “you need to peak at the right time and we did that and hopefully we can keep it going. … We’re a passionate bunch and my dad wouldn’t want it any other way, so, really, this win is for him — dedicated to him.”

Jefferson’s semifinal win earns yet another rematch with top-seeded host and state powerhouse, Jesuit, which won its semifinal 9-1 over Clearwater later in the evening.

Jesuit senior Cole Russo went 3-for-3, with a triple and two RBI.

The Tigers (24-2) defeated the Dragons three times during the season (including once in the Saladino Tournament) and outscored the latter 18-4.

Jesuit would pad the scoring thanks to a five-run fourth that pushed the lead to seven runs and eventually a 9-0 lead before reliever Ryan Skelly would load the bases, and a passed ball would allow the Tornadoes to score their lone run.

Dominic Castellano would make the start and pitch five innings of one-hit ball, strike out seven and walk two. Jamie Arnold struck out two in his one inning of relief, while Skelly would go on to strike out the side despite giving up two walks, a hit and the run.

Jesuit senior pitcher Dominic Castellano improved to 7-1 on the season.

Cole Russo, Jack Martinez and Wes Mendes would all drive in two RBI, while Russo was 3-for-3 and Tyler Corish was 2-for-3 with a double, triple and scored three, as the Tigers only struck out once in the game.

Jesuit and Jefferson will square off Thursday evening at 7 at Hyer Family Park for the championship.

⚾⚾ 5A-7 Semifinals ⚾⚾

Jefferson 8
Hillsborough 0

J 000|001|7 – |8|7|1
H 000|000|0 – |0|7|2
W – Johnson (1-4); L – Urso (4-5).
Records – J (16-9); H (16-10).


(1) Jesuit 9
Clearwater 1

C 000|000|1 – |1|3|5
J 020|511|x – |9|7|0
W – Castellano (7-1); L – White.
2B – Mendes, Corish (J); 3B – Corish, Russo (J). Records – C (16-11); J (24-2).