BY DAVE LINK
MURFREESBORO – Jett Johnston had pitched eight innings this season for the Farragut baseball team before Thursday afternoon at Siegel High School.
The Admirals’ starting third baseman got penciled in as the starter against Stewarts Creek of Smyrna with a berth in the Class 4A state championship at stake.
Johnston (1-0) responded by allowing one hit and one run in 5.1 innings, jump-starting the Admirals toward a 6-4 victory over the Red Hawks.
“I was just trying to control all my emotions leading up to that start,” Johnston said. “It’s not something I do a lot, so I just tried to treat it as a relief appearance, and I didn’t do all the things that a starter would do before the game because why change my routine? I’m just going to continue to do what I do.”
Farragut (35-8) will play Hardin Valley Academy on Friday at 7 p.m. Central for the state championship at Middle Tennessee State University.
The Admirals, who are 1-3 against HVA this season, are defending state champions and are going for their 12th state title in program history.
“It means a lot, obviously, winning it all last year,” said Johnston, a Texas A&M signee. “Not a lot of people get to do it, and we definitely don’t take it for granted around here. We’re going to win it all.”
Farragut won its seventh consecutive game since a 7-5 loss to HVA on May 8 in the District 4-4A championship.
The Admirals are 3-0 at state this week.
“We’ve been here. We’ve been through the battles, and I feel like our guys are pretty tough,” Farragut coach Matt Buckner said.
“We did a good job today. I’m proud of them.”
Johnston, a right-hander who has two saves, had started one game before Thursday’s. In that game, he was on a pitch count and went into the third inning.
Against Stewarts Creek (31-9), Johnston took a no-hit shutout into the bottom of the sixth inning with Farragut holding a 6-0 lead.
He struck out four, walked four, and hit a batter before being relieved by senior left-hander Matthew Kilbey, who finished the game.
“I think I was probably (throwing) 80 percent fastballs,” Johnston said. “They just weren’t catching up to it, and they weren’t proving they could hit it, so coach (Garrett Copeland) said we’re just going to stay with the fastball until they prove they can hit it.
“The slider was working, too, but just challenging people with the fastball seemed to be effective enough.”
After the Admirals left the bases loaded in the top of the first, Johnston retired the Red Hawks in the bottom of the inning.
He pitched around a walk in the second, thanks to an unassisted double-play turned by shortstop Lukas Buckner.
Farragut got to sophomore right-hander Chase Fernandez in the second, scoring four runs on two hits, two walks, a hit batsman, and an error.
With one out and the bases loaded, Buckner hit what looked like a double-play ball to second baseman Ayden Jackson but beat the throw to first for an RBI fielder’s choice.
Landis Davila followed with an RBI single, and Buckner scored on an error on the same play for a 3-0 lead.
Jake Merrick’s RBI single scored Davila, making it 4-0.
“We’ve got some guys who can run and put some pressure on you,” Matt Buckner said, “so we were able to do that a little bit today. That was a good thing.”
The Admirals made it 5-0 in the fourth. Gavin Brewer got hit by a pitch starting the inning, advanced on Mark Underwood’s sacrifice, and scored on Buckner’s RBI single.
Farragut added a run in the fifth for a 6-0 lead off reliever Ben Bryant. With one out, Johnston doubled, advanced on Brennon Siegler’s bunt single, and scored on Cooper Schulze’s RBI fielder’s choice.
Through five innings, Johnston was cruising on the mound.
“Today all I was trying to do was trust my defense,” Johnston said. “We’ve been playing really, really well as a team, and I was just not trying to blow it by everybody and let the defense do all the work and that’s exactly what they did.”
Johnston gave up his only hit when Coleman Neas led off the bottom of the sixth with a single over Buckner into left field.
“We were just waiting for the right spot (to start Johnston),” Matt Buckner said. “Today was the right spot. He’s got great stuff. When he’s in the zone, he is murder to hit. He’s really, really difficult to hit. He obviously throws hard, was up to 94 (mph) or something.”
After Neas’ single, Johnston got a strikeout and walked a batter, then was relieved by Kilbey, who’s signed with Alabama-Huntsville.
Zachary Lawson’s RBI fielder’s choice cut the deficit to 6-1.
Kilbey ended the sixth with a flyout.
In the bottom of the seventh, Stewarts Creek’s Lex Fulsone drew a walk starting the inning.
Johnston, after moving to third base, committed two straight throwing errors on ground balls, the second allowing a run to score.
“I think my arm was just a little bit tired, and maybe I just wasn’t locked in all the way,” Johnston said. “No explanation for it. It was just a slipup.”
Tayden Mounivoung’s RBI fielder’s choice cut the deficit to 6-3 with one out, and Neas’ RBI triple past diving left fielder Underwood made it 6-4.
Kilbey ended the game with a popup and strikeout, giving Johnston his first win on the mound this season.
“Man, (Johnston) did a great job for us today,” Matt Buckner said, “and gave us the ability to get the win and get to the championship game tomorrow.”