If you believe momentum is important heading into a state tournament, then Faith Lutheran’s Brandon Johnson certainly gave the Crusaders a boost on Saturday.
Johnson pitched a five-inning perfect game with 10 strikeouts to lead the host Crusaders to a 14-0 win over Chaparral in the Division I-A Southern Region final.
Both Faith Lutheran (27-6) and the Cowboys (24-11) advance to the state tournament, which begins Thursday in Sparks.
“He’s loose; he’s a clown off the field, but once he crosses the line he’s a great competitor,” Faith Lutheran coach Blair Neagle said.
Johnson started quickly and never let up, striking out the side in the first two innings on just 23 pitches, consistently painting the corners to keep the Chaparral hitters off-balance.
“He was locating real well,” Neagle said. “He was in and out, and he threw his breaking pitch for a strike when he needed to. His location and off-speed stuff; everything was working for him.”
The last out was the only ground ball Johnson allowed, and he needed stellar defense to keep the perfect game intact.
Chaparral’s Matt Ellison hit a sharp grounder to short, forcing Logan Etherington to move to his right, but Etherington planted his foot and made a strong throw first to end the game. Johnson threw just 47 pitches, 36 for strikes.
“For the most part it was just my normal routine,” Johnson said. “But overall this being my last home game and last time putting on a Faith uniform at home, I think it gave me a little bit more motivation to come out and throw right away and no playing around.”
Faith Lutheran’s offense made sure Johnson got plenty of run support, scoring five runs on six hits in the first inning. The Crusaders added four more in the third and another five in the fourth.
“They’ve been working extremely hard offensively,” Johnson said. “They came out today with a little bit more drive, and they made adjustments right away and gave me a lot of run support.”
After allowing two singles to start the game, Chaparral starter Chad Clark got a pop out and strikeout. But Cameron Sepede stepped up and ripped a 1-1 fastball over the left field fence to open the flood gates. Sepede finished with three RBIs and three runs scored.
Chad Jones was 2-for-2 with two runs and three RBIs, including a two-run single in the first inning. Zach Trageton went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Greg Sylvester was 2-for-2 with two RBIs.
“With just two strikeouts, we put the ball in play a little bit,” Neagle said. “Unfortunately for Chaparral, it’s a long week for them. That’s not their best effort and they were just tired. We really had an advantage having one extra day off to get ready.”