BENSON — The South Johnston and West Johnston baseball teams are using this year’s inaugural Johnston County Summer Baseball League as a chance to see which up-and-coming players are ready to step up and fill the roles previously held by outgoing seniors.
And for good reason as the Trojans lost 11 seniors from this past season to graduation and West Johnston lost nine of its own.
Those auditioning for those roles competed Wednesday night with South Johnston coming out on top with a 3-1 win.
The Wildcat bats had a tough time getting anything going against South Johnston pitcher Ethan Barefoot.
Barefoot, a rising senior, allowed just two hits and struck out eight in six innings. Nash Johnson came on in relief in the bottom of the seventh and closed out the game for the Trojans with a pair of strikeouts.
The difficulty in getting the offense going is something that the Wildcats are focusing on improving upon this year.
“The thing we’ve got to work on is our hitting,” said West Johnston coach Joey Worley.
“Defensively and pitching – we play pretty well but hitting wise, we’ve really got to concentrate on it. It showed today.”
Cameron Meyers’ sacrifice fly in the seventh scored Shane Collins to cut the score to 3-1 but Johnson struck out Jonathan Adamski with two runners on base to seal the victory.
Meyers and Ben Ormond were the only Wildcats able to record hits off of Barefoot.
West Johnston’s Dalton Mundy was about as equally impressive allowing just five hits while striking out seven Trojan batters.
But Nash Johnson’s RBI single in the first and Joe Johnson’s RBI groundout in the third was enough to secure the win for the Trojans.
Despite losing 11 seniors, the cupboard is not bare for South Johnston.
“The positive thing we look at is that we lost 11 guys but our JV team had a great spring,” South Johnston coach Keith Durham said. “Some of those guys are moving up and look like they’re ready to step into some of those slots.
“We’re just trying to figure out where the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”
For the Trojans, it may be the intangibles that players such as Lane Johnson and Will Raynor possessed that may be the hardest to replace.
But Durham sees some players stepping up already this summer.
Rising seniors Cameron Keene, Gerrod Raynor and Josh Stikeleather have, each in their own way, taken over some of the leadership roles vacated by the recently-graduated class.
“We’ve got guys who are capable and know what to do and do things right,” stated Durham. “It’s been very positive.”
For West Johnston, the key to replacing a core group of players responsible for back-to-back Junior American Legion championships – and a share of last year’s Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League championship – will simply come down to playing time and more at-bats.
With some of the Wildcats’ more seasoned returning players involved in football and other various baseball showcase tournaments, the younger players will have plenty of chances to prove themselves.
“Everybody’s got to step up and everybody now gets the chance to get better,” added Worley.
“What’s so great about this league is that you can let guys go play showcase and everybody else gets more chances to play.”