Penns Valley pitcher LJ Johnson felt his elbow tighten up after four shutout innings against St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy.
Johnson had just struck out back-to-back Wolves’ hitters looking at his curveball on the outside corner to finish the fourth, and he talked over the plan for the rest of the game with Rams coach Chuck Romig near the backstop. Johnson said he’d try to go one more inning with the Rams holding a one-run lead.
The lefty got both Peter Forstmeier and Dillon Roettger to strike out swinging at fastballs to start the inning. After an error, St. Joseph’s Bryce Herman chased a curveball off the plate with an off-balanced swing and hopped up and down twice to mark the end of the inning and Johnson’s outing.
Johnson struck out seven and limited St. Joseph’s to two hits in five innings to lead Penns Valley to a 2-0 win Friday. Kevin Sweeley pitched two scoreless innings of relief to pick up the save. The Rams did just enough offensively, scratching together two runs despite having just two hits, to earn their fourth win in five games.
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Penns Valley (4-4) has won three straight behind strong starting pitching, holding their opponents to a combined three runs during that span.
St. Joseph’s (2-3) had the tying run on base in the seventh inning, but the Wolves couldn’t break through on a cold and windy day. Herman took the loss, allowing one run on one hit and walking five in five innings.
“It was a good ballgame,” St. Joseph’s coach Troy Allen said. “I can live with losing those games. When you don’t compete, those are the ones I have a problem with. Today everybody was battling tough conditions. We’re a young team, so that has a lot to do with it, but I have no complaints about today.”
Johnson set the tone for the Rams on Friday, allowing two singles, three walks and just three Wolves’ baserunners to reach second base.
“I really concentrated on hitting my spots and working the curveball inside and out,” Johnson said.
The Rams gave Johnson a 1-0 lead in the second inning with the help of a St. Joseph’s miscue.
Penns Valley catcher Colton Treaster led off with a walk on four pitches against Herman. Treaster stole second base with one out and Jon Montresor at the plate.
Montresor sent a ground ball to St. Joseph’s third baseman Trevor Bulick, who made a throwing error to allow Treaster to score the game’s first run.
The Rams drew four walks in the first two innings before Logan Marcum recorded the team’s first hit with a single to right field in the third. Penns Valley has struggled during its recent turnaround.
The Rams managed just three hits in a 2-1 win over Bellefonte and edged Bald Eagle Area 3-2 in eight innings to start the win streak. Johnson said the team has cut down its errors and used timely hitting to win the close games, something Romig echoed after Penns Valley got back to the .500 mark Friday.
“If our bats go away, we can still win with good pitching and defense and that’s what’s happened,” Romig said.
Johnson put together another solid effort on the mound.
He recorded six of his seven strikeouts in his final three innings and struck out five of the final six batters he faced.
“He hasn’t had a bad outing this year,” Romig said.
Penns Valley still had just one hit and held its 1-0 lead heading into the sixth inning.
Herman, the Wolves’ starting pitcher, battled through five innings to keep his team within reach before being replaced by Phil Fenstermacker on the mound.
Fenstermacker gave up a two-out, RBI double to Penns Valley’s Ryan McElwee in the sixth, giving the Rams an insurance run for the seventh.
Tyler Broderick advanced to second with one out after a throwing error on a fielder’s choice. He advanced to third on a single by Forstmeier.
But the Wolves’ rally died when Treaster gunned down Forstmeier, a freshman, trying to steal second. Roettger popped out to shortstop to end the game.
“The freshmen and sophomores have to step up in order for us to be a successful team,” Allen said. “It’s trial by fire and unfortunately for them, they’re in the fire and they’ve got to figure it out.”