TAMPA — Gaither got just three hits — all in the same inning, no less — but coupled with stellar pitching and defense to match the Cowboys took playoff revenge on the team that ended their season a year ago.
Robert Johnson pitched a seven-hit shutout and got some big-time web gems behind him in a 1-0 victory over second-ranked Venice in region quarterfinal play. The Cowboys (16-8), eliminated by the Indians in first-round action last year, face Manatee on the road in Friday’s semifinals.
“These guys really stuck it to us last season, so to do it back to them is just a great feeling,” said senior right-fielder and team captain Zach Jackson, who laid out for a timely diving catch in the seventh inning. “Any revenge game is going to feel good.”
Alejandro Brunet and Jose Gonzalez opened the Gaither fourth with back-to-back singles, and Brunet scored on a one-out base hit by Hayden Kelly. That was all the Cowboys got. It was all they needed.
The Indians (22-7), meanwhile, put runners on base in all but one inning, but could not get any of them home against Johnson. When they made good contact, shortstop Oscar Mercado, second baseman Cory Robinson and Jackson made great plays to stave off any threat.
“Oh my goodness! ESPN must have been here tonight,” Gaither coach Frank Permuy said. “They say defense and pitching wins it, and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
Johnson, a senior right-hander, struck out just one, but did not walk a batter and improved his record to 8-0 and ERA to 1.30.
“I was locating the ball pretty good,” Johnson said. “And our defense was fantastic.”