Flowery Branch baseball coach Heath Kennedy predicted a much different outing as he observed Johnson during pregame warmups in Game 2 of the Region 8-AAAAA series Wednesday night.
As anticipated, the Falcons were off balance for much of the way until gathering their bearings in just enough time for a walkoff, 5-4 win at Hog Mountain Sports Complex.
It didn’t surprise Kennedy one bit that the same Johnson (2-13, 0-4 region) team to be blanked 9-0 on Monday led twice in this back-and-forth affair. Starting pitcher Zach Wagner picked up one last gear down the stretch to toss two shutout innings with three strikeouts, while a one-out sacrifice fly by Andrew Reichart (1 for 3, RBI) with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh allowed the Falcons (9-7, 2-0 region) to capture their third straight win.
“When they stepped out onto the field, you kind of had that feeling that it was gonna be that kind of game,” said the first-year coach of Johnson. “It’s something we’ve been saying all year long, to trust your preparation. It’s a faceless opponent. They outplayed us, I thought. Just a few plays for them here and there, they would have won the game.”
The Falcons struggled from the plate against a dealing Chandler Barkley, only sneaking five hits past the right-handed pitcher for Johnson. Despite surrendering three runs (one earned), Barkley kept an aggressive opposing ballclub off-balance for all six innings of work. He jammed batters at the plate to force a plethora of groundouts and flyouts while striking out four and picking off a pair of baserunners.
“He set the tone for the whole game, and we had no answer for that for most of the day. Honestly, if he had stayed in, you may never know what the outcome of the game may have been. His mound presence was incredible and he threw great, so tip your cap to him,” Kennedy said of Barkley.
The game being pushed up an hour didn’t help too much either, according to Kennedy.
“Baseball is a game of adjustments, just like life,” he added. “You wanted to see some adjustments, but we didn’t do that at the plate.”
Payden Grizzle, who reached on a shortstop error and worked his way to third on a stolen base and fielder’s choice, crossed the plate for the Knights’ first run on a one-out Barkley sacrifice fly in the top of the first.
They rallied back from two runs down to score their final three runs behind a fourth-inning, two-out, RBI-double from Tino Mukono (1 for 3) and a Ramon Munoz (1 for 3) two-RBI double to left-center field the very next frame.
The Falcons were aggressive all afternoon, especially along the base paths with 10 stolen bags, two apiece from Sean Akins and Anthony Grutadaurio (1 for 4, double, two runs scored).
Grutadaurio’s first came on a steal home in the bottom of the fifth to knot it at 4-all. And after reaching on a one-out standup double and advancing to second on an outfield error, Grutadaurio snagged one more at third to set up the game-winner in the bottom of the seventh.
After a Reichart flyout to right field, Grutadaurio tagged and slid feet-first into home plate to end it.
“That’s what we try to teach,” said Kennedy. “We teach aggressive stuff, the problem is simulating the game speed. These are the games that count, and I was not surprised today because (Johnson) came off the bus and they were ready to play.”
Now halfway through the season, Kennedy won’t be taking these types of games lightly moving forward and expects a little more focus and preparation in the future. The Falcons visit Loganville on Friday.
“It’s just Year 1 — and it’s not rebuilding because we’ve already won nine games,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully we’ll begin to learn from it.”
Johnson plays at Riverside Military Academy in a non-region game Monday.