LAND O’LAKES — Malik Johns hadn’t thrown a 1-2-3 inning all night. And with the heart of Hernando’s order coming up for the seventh, it did not appear as though that would change.
“I knew they had their strong hitters coming up, so I had to throw strikes and let my defense do the job,” Johns said.
The plan worked to perfection Thursday night as Pasco pulled off a 2-1 upset of Hernando in the semifinals of the Pasco-Hernando tournament at Sunlake.
Pasco faces Central tonight for the championship.
Hernando’s Justin Young and Kyle Kilbourne ended the game with hard-hit liners but right to first baseman Sam Newton and third baseman Brian Johnson, respectively.
Before that Johns had wriggled out of three straight jams. He had only thrown 3 2/3 innings this season, and according to Pasco coach Pat Fortunato was supposed to log about that same amount Thursday.
“My arm feels perfect. I could two or three more innings right now,” Johns said.
The Leopards (13-2) have handed Pasco two of its three losses this season in district play. But this time Pasco jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning without a hit. Johns and Turner Imhoff were both hit by pitches, Hernando failed to turn a double play for the first run and a booted grounder made it 2-0.
“They put the ball in play. They did a good job. We did a better job at helping them out,” Hernando coach Tim Sims said.
Pasco (7-3) didn’t have a hit until the fourth inning but ended up with five, one more than the Leopards. Grant Starling had the first hit and finished 2-for-2 with a walk. Tyree Austin singled and had an RBI.
Hernando left nine men on base against Johns, who walked four but struck out seven. The Leopards had runners on second and third with none out in the fifth but failed to score. And even when they got on the board, Tyler Edington’s RBI single making it 2-1 in the sixth, the tying run was tagged out at home on a poorly executed safety squeeze play.
Daniel Miller, making his second start for Hernando, threw three hitless innings followed by freshman Brad Ellis, who struck out four across three frames.