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Beechwood does it again, coming from behind in 7th on pinch-hitter Landon Johnson’s last chance blast

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

Was it possible?

Could there really be back-to-back 1-0 upsets in the Ninth Region baseball semifinals Monday with the second one – Dixie Heights over Beechwood – one of the all-time longshots?

It sure looked like it. But then an underdog 21-loss Dixie team scored a second run in the bottom of the sixth, giving the region’s seventh-ranked Colonels a 2-0 lead over the top-ranked Tigers.

And with just two hits off a dominating Brach Rice, the seventh inning didn’t look a great deal more promising for Beechwood.

“Maybe this isn’t our night,” Beechwood Coach Kevin Gray remembers telling himself of the pitches he thought his batters “had squared away” and got nothing.

Beechwood hero Landon Johnson

But that’s not what he told his team heading into their last at-bat. “We’ve been here before,” he would say confidently, “you know how to do this.”

Looking back, Gray realizes he did so because “I had to say something.”

He also said something else, said it an inning earlier actually. To senior Landon Johnson, who’s been the odd man out in the outfield where eighth-grader Tyler Fryman – “an absolute stud,” Landon calls him — patrols center field between a pair of talented seniors – Nazaro Pangallo in left and Cameron Boyd in right.

“The inning before Coach told us ‘We’ve been here before,’ he told me to be loose, to get ready,” Landon said.

“All day long I just had a feeling,” Gray said, “that LJ was going to do something, a feeling that he was going to come through.”

But first, someone else – several someone’s – would have to come through. And we repeat, in six innings off Rice, Beechwood had exactly two hits, three base-runners and no runs.

So when Dixie Heights put up those two runs in the bottom of the sixth on a walk, a couple of wild pitches and three base hits, the Colonel fans had good reason to be ecstatic.

As for Beechwood, when leadoff hitter Ben Meier opened the seventh with a ground-rule double that bounced over the fence in left center, there was a chance, wasn’t there? Then Fryman hit a high-hopper over third base for a second straight hit. Could this be happening?

Photos by Bob Jackson

Not without pinch-hitter Johnson, who came up with two outs and a chance to be the hero – or the last out. He worked a 1-2 count to 3-2 before blasting one of those you-can’t-believe-your-eyes gappers into left center that said the Tigers were not only not going down, not going to be shut out, they just might win this thing.

By the time Beechwood had batted around, there was a four-spot on the board. And quiet in the Dixie dugout. But it would not have happened without Johnson stepping up and taking his shot.

“I’ve been in and out of the lineup,” the Georgetown College signee said. “But Coach said I’m going to give you a chance . . . I’m so glad they gave me an opportunity.”

After stepping out of the box, taking some deep breaths to calm himself down, he figured he was getting a fastball on three-and-two. And after he hit it, when he realized the ball was down and through to the fence, all he could think of was, “I hope Fryman scores.”

He wasn’t the only one. So when he got his own chance to score the fourth and final run in Beechwood’s 4-2 win, Johnson had that memory he’ll take with him the rest of his life.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget this, it’s the best moment in my high school career.”

But there’s another side to this. “You gotta’ give Brach Rice so much credit,” Gray said. “I honestly felt bad for him. He deserved to win the game.”

But he didn’t, didn’t finish the seventh inning because Beechwood once again did what Beechwood does.

“That’s the third or fourth time we’ve come from behind in the seventh inning down multiple runs,” Gray said.

Just don’t ask him how they keep doing it.

“I wish I had the recipe,” he said.

One ingredient, Gray said, was having a senior pitcher like Sam Stacy step up and shut out Dixie Heights for five innings.

“A phenomenal effort for us in what could be his last high school game.”

Thanks to the win, Gray has his 26-8 Tigers playing for their “fourth regional title in the last four years.” And they’ll be going against a Highlands team in the 7 p.m. championship game Wednesday that won the year Beechwood didn’t.

“I think it’s pretty cool, us and them again,” Gray said of the matchup. “If you beat ‘em, you gotta’ earn it.”

BEECHWOOD 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 – 4-6-0
DIXIE HEIGHTS 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 – 2-10-0
WP: O’Shea (3-1), LP: Rice (5-4)

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