No. 9-ranked Johns Creeks continued to show why its widely considered the baseball team to beat in Region 6-AAAAAA with an 8-3 win at North Forsyth on Wednesday.
Gladiators starting pitcher Connor Jones, a Georgia commitment and highly regarded MLB prospect, struck out nine batters before handing off to Georgia Tech-commitment Matt Gorst, who closed the door and added three RBIs. The senior-laden Gladiators (9-3, 4-0 region) have won four games in a row and have allowed exactly three runs in each of those victories.
The Raiders hurt themselves with three errors overall and a base-running mistake that cost them a run during a three-run third inning.
"When you’re playing a good ball club like [Johns Creek], every pitch on offense and defense matters," North Forsyth head coach Jim Cahill said.
North (6-7, 1-3) became the first Region 6 team to hold the high-powered Gladiators under 10 runs this year, but couldn’t score enough off Jones and Gorst to make it count.
Raiders starting pitcher Chris Vincent surrendered four earned runs while striking out seven in five innings. But it was the three-unearned runs that crossed the plate in the second inning that put the Raiders in an early hole.
Johns Creek capitalized on a two-out error by the young North infield, with Gorst clearing the bases on a three-run triple. The Gladiators extended their lead to 5-0 in the third on RBI singles by Michael Salomon and Chase Solomon.
Vincent regrouped with a one-two-three fourth inning, setting up a rally that got the Raiders back in the game. Nick Aiken led off the inning with a base hit, the first off Jones. Harris Roberts and Michael Henderson drew walks, before Tony Papale delivered a two-run double and Brant Stark added an RBI single to cut the Johns Creek lead to 5-3.
But that was as close at North would get. The Gladiators tacked on two runs in the fifth and one more in the seventh for insurance.
The Raiders tried to mount a seventh-inning comeback. Stark led off with a single and freshman Cory Campbell also had a base hit in the inning, but Gorst struck out Aiken to end the threat.
About a dozen MLB scouts braved cold, windy conditions to get a look at Jones, the Gladiators’ 6-foot-3, hard-throwing left-hander. Jones over-powered the Raiders early, striking out five in a row in the first and second innings. But he tired as his pitch count grew, head coach Billy Nicholson said.
The cold temperatures and brisk wind didn’t help.
"The pitcher’s grip on the ball and keeping the kids focused on the game instead of trying to stay warm are tough things," Nicholson said.
So is playing in front of a bevy of major league scouts every time out, like Jones has been forced to do during his senior season.
"We counted 37 scouts his last time out [at Centennial]," Nicholson said. "That’s tough on a kid. We tell him to block them out."