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Starkville's Johnson celebrates birthday with a win

 

David Miller

 

The Starkville High School baseball team didn''t need many hits to win its Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A, Dvision 2, District 4 opener. 

 

Starkville just needed a few timely connections and some help from the Columbus Falcons on Tuesday night.  

 

Starkville managed just three hits in the district opener for both teams, but it was more than enough for a 7-1 win.  

 

The Yellow Jackets got a gem on the mound from senior R.J. Johnson, who pitched 6 2/3 innings and struck out 15 batters. Celebrating his 18th birthday, Johnson gave up just four hits, three walks and one run. 

 

Johnson also helped his cause with two RBIs for Starkville (6-1), which hosts Columbus in a rematch Friday. He delivered a hit in the seventh inning to score Garrett Smith and Chuck Tillery and give the Yellow Jackets a 5-1 lead. 

 

"I thought I should have hit the 2-0 pitch, but I let that one go by," Johnson said. "I battled the 3-2 count, and as coach said, keep my front side in and drive it the other way." 

 

The Jackets struggled at the plate as Columbus pitcher Nick Durrah was on from the start, striking out two batters in the first inning before registering five-straight hitless innings.  

 

Durrah was the losing pitcher, going seven innings and giving up six earned runs on just three hits. He struck out six and walked eight. 

 

The junior lefty ran into trouble in the third, walking four batters, including three straight, in a hitless inning that yielded two runs. 

 

Still, Durah remained in the game and got out of the inning with his team trailing 3-0.  

 

Durrah''s bump in an otherwise solid inning summed up Columbus'' day as an error in left field in the first was responsible for Starkville''s first run.  

 

"I think he pitched well and really kept them off balance," Columbus coach Jeff Cook said. "We just didn''t help him by leaving too many guys on base and striking out too much." 

 

Columbus (6-6) managed a run in the fourth inning when Christian Dale singled home Durrah from third. Durrah got on following a deep shot to left that Starkville''s Victor Johnson lost in the lights.  

 

Johnson rebounded to strike out the next two batters to end the inning. 

 

Johnson''s command was spotty at times the rest of the way. A brief visit to the mound from pitching coach Reggie Campbell got Johnson back on track as the senior struck out the side in the fifth before going four up, three down in the sixth.  

 

Starkville scored its final two runs in the seventh on a pair of passed balls that scored Cody Berryhill and Samuel Bigham. 

 

Starkville coach Danny Carlisle lamented the team''s performance at the plate. 

 

"We didn''t hit the ball well, but we took advantage of what they gave us," Carlisle said. "I was extremely proud of our guys for that. [Durrah] was working middle to out and we were trying to pull the ball. When you do that, you see those weak ground balls we were sending to the shortstop. They made a living over there fielding weak ground balls when we ought have been hitting that right center field gap. Cody Berryhill set it right there in the first inning and smoked a double." 

 

Cook was disappointed to have a strong performance from Durrah and a quality day in the field go for naught. 

 

"The thing is, I really think we can still play a lot better," Cook said. "We''ve played some good games, but we''ve got to keep getting better. We should be better than what we are record wise. We lost a couple of one-run games because again, we lost focus in an inning. 

 

"There was a lot of positive things but we''ve got to maintain focus and keep going. The good thing about our division is we get to turn around and play these guys on Friday night. I guarantee we''ll be ready to play." 

 

 

 

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