E.A. Sports Today

Majors border war

North Carolina, South Carolina play at top of bracket in DYB Majors World Series, Georgia, Florida battle on other side

North Carolina’s Johnny Joseph slides in with the tying run as Florida pitcher Michael Savarese awaits the retrieval of a wild pitch for a throw that doesn’t come.

Thursday’s Games
North Carolina vs. South Carolina, 10:30 a.m. (Field 5)
Florida vs. Georgia, 10 a.m. (Field 4)
Championship Game, 5 p.m. (Field 5)
(If necessary, Friday, 11 a.m.)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – You’d think by now the scouting report on the North Carolina Majors All-Stars would say do not intentionally walk Matthew Suppa, no matter how dangerous a hitter, to get to Jim Johnson.

He’ll hurt you just the same.

The pitching-strong Florida All-Stars made that choice Wednesday and Johnson made it pay.

For the second time in about 12 hours, Johnson delivered a big hit after the opposition intentionally walked Suppa to get to him. This time, the South Park first baseman blasted a three-run homer to punctuate a five-run fifth inning that put the Sharks’ 7-2 Dixie Youth Baseball World Series win Wednesday out of reach.

North Carolina’s Jim Johnson (34) displays his home run ball that put his team’s game with Florida out of reach.

The night before, in a game crammed into the rain-plagued schedule, Mississippi intentionally walked Suppa in a tight game and the first baseman with MLB management in his lineage delivered a two-run double to extend the lead.

“Jim has been for the last three or four years one of our top hitters and by far our No. 1 pitcher,” North Carolina manager John Jeffries said. “But he developed some (shoulder issues) and he’s been fighting a lot of pain. He’ll take 10 or 12 cuts in the cage and he’ll feel pain and we’ll shut him down.

“He’s been a heck of a player. There have been several times where a team walks Suppa and pitches to him and every time he has made them pay.”

The win left North Carolina as the only unbeaten team left in the Majors Series. It will play South Carolina in a tentatively scheduled 10 a.m. game Thursday. South Carolina took out Tennessee 16-1 and Louisiana 6-3. Georgia and Florida play on the other side of the bracket.

The bottom of the lineup got North Carolina’s big inning started, then the hitters at the top did their thing. Tyler Nee knocked in the go-ahead run with a one-out double and Grayson Little chased home an insurance run with an infield out.

With two outs and a runner at third, Florida intentionally walked Suppa to get to Johnson, who struck out in his first two at-bats.

“I knew he was starting the curveball so first pitch I just slammed it,” said Johnson, whose mother’s cousin is San Francisco Giants GM Bobby Evans. “It was just an awesome feeling.”

The win went to Nee, the grandson of former major-league pitcher Joe Bonikowski. It was actually Bonikowski who taught a 10-year-old Nee the curve that changed his desire for pitching and he used so effectively against Florida. Bonikowski pitched his rookie season with the 1962 Minnesota Twins before developing arm trouble; he once struck out Mickey Mantle in a spring training game.

Nee entered the game with his team trailing 2-0. But he kept Florida off the board the next three innings, allowing only one hit, striking out seven and facing just one batter over the minimum. Suppa struck out the side in the sixth for the save. That’s striking out 10 of the last 12 Florida batters, if you’re counting.

“I was just hoping I would get not many base runners on, use not many pitches and let them get the ball in play and let my defense make the plays,” Nee said. “We were down two most of the time I was pitching so I felt good about how I pitched.”

Florida had given up only one run in its first three games and kept North Carolina off the board for three innings. The Sharks tied it with two in the fourth, then broke it open in the fifth.

“Something about the fifth inning is magic for us,” Jeffries said. “Coming into the bottom of the fourth or fifth inning it’s like the third time our top of the order has seen the pitcher and they just seem to be dialed in. Our top five hitters are so tough. I wouldn’t want to pitch against them.”

Some teams haven’t and Johnson has made them pay.

South Carolina manager John Hayes, a former small college pitcher now a high school baseball coach, said the situation would dictate how he’d handle a Suppa-Johnson situation Thursday. But he knows what he’d have done if his team faced the same situation Florida did in that that crucial fifth inning.

“Early in a game, I’m probably going to trust any one of my guys I have out there on the mound to make a good, quality pitch to them,” Hayes said. “Late in the game, in that last game, I would have walked both of them and loaded the bases, for the same reason: I have my confidence in my guy who’s going to throw a strike and get that next guy out.

“If you were going to walk one, I was going to walk two. It’s like anything else: You don’t want to lose, but there are other kids you don’t want to let beat you. If you lose, sometimes you want to make that other kid beat you.”

South Carolina infielder Michael Wynne shows off the first home run he ever hit in his life, a three-run shot in the first inning that lifted his team over Louisiana.

South Carolina earned its spot opposite its northern neighbor with a 6-3 victory over Louisiana that was highlghted by the first home run middle infielder Michael Wynne ever hit in his life.

Wynne had the big blow in a five-run first inning that set the tone for the game.

“I’m excited because it was my first home run, plus if I didn’t hit it we’d probably still be playing tied 3-3, so I think I came up clutch in that situation,” Wynne said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a home run at first, but once I saw it get over the fence I got super excited.”

After dropping its tournament opener to Florida 2-1, the team from North Charleston has won three straight games by a combined score of 40-8 — Hayes insists it’s still not hitting as well as it’s capable.

“We dropped the first one to a really good team in a really good game,” Hayes said. “It was one of those games that could’ve gone either way and we didn’t get the bounce. But these kids have taken us on a great ride … It’s a new guy every day (who delivers) on this team. It’s a really special group of boys. I’ve coached for a long time at many level and this group is special. We’re just enjoying ride.”

On the cover: Jim Johnson is greeted at the plate by his South Park, N.C., teammates after hitting a three-run homer against Florida.

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