VAN — A year ago, Cayuga beat Overton in the opener of their playoff series and went into the second game with a wealth of confidence. The Wildcats, however, dropped two consecutive to the Mustangs and ended up in the offseason.
On Wednesday night, Cayuga once again jumped ahead in a best-of-three series against Overton. The fourth-ranked Wildcats used another powerful performance from pitcher Jimmy Johnson to prevail 7-1 in the Class 1A Region III quarterfinals at Van High School.
Cayuga hopes the repeat of history ends there, though.
“It’s always a good start when you get a Game 1 victory in a series,” Wildcats coach Greg Branch said. “It’s nice to defeat Overton and get that 1-0 lead, but we’ve been there before with these guys and know they’re going to fight back.”
With the win, Cayuga (26-3) put 2011 state semifinalist Overton (18-10) on the brink of elimination once again entering Friday night’s 7 p.m. game at Brownsboro. And Johnson no doubt led the effort, throwing six innings of shutout baseball while allowing only two hits and striking out 11 of the 18 batters he faced.
“He threw a lot of strikes,” Branch said. “If we’re going to utilize him again in the series, which we hope we can, it was important for me to lower his pitch count.”
Thanks to his performance, Cayuga never needed to press at the place and spread its runs out across five different innings. The Wildcats’ lone explosive showing came in the second, which consisted of three runs to make the score 4-0.
Johnson aided his cause at the plate from his leadoff spot, finishing 2 for 4 with two singles and an RBI. Jake Nash, the starting catcher who pitched the final two innings, went 2 for 3 with a double and two RBIs and Payton Wallace finished 2 for 2 with two singles, an RBI and a walk.
Overton’s A.J. McCasland had the biggest hit of the night for the Mustangs, an RBI double against Nash in the sixth. Tyler Rhodes doubled against Johnson in the first, before the hard-throwing righty retired eight of the next nine batters he faced.
Cayuga quickly put runners aboard against Overton starter Jesse Roach in the first — singles by Johnson and Nash — and scored on a wild pitch to go in front 1-0.
The Wildcats piled on the runs in the second, thanks to Hunter Jenkins and Jaret Walthall getting the rally started with a single and walk, respectively. Johnson and Wallace followed with back-to-back RBI singles, and Nash posted an RBI flyout to right field.
In the third, the Wildcats scored on an error to increase their advantage to 5-0 and make the Mustangs pay for their mistakes for the second time. The Wildcats made them pay for a third time in the fourth — scoring on a bases-loaded balk — and topped things off with an RBI walk by Nash in the sixth.
Johnson, in the meantime, was busy mowing down Overton’s lineup to the tune of striking out six of the seven batters he faced during the fourth and fifth innings.
“He went out and threw a lot of first-pitch strikes,” Jenkins said. “He went out and executed the game plan.”
Should Overton rebound and win Game 2, the teams would play a third-and-deciding game at 7 p.m. Saturday in Brownsboro.
The winner of the series advances to meet either Cushing or second-ranked Douglass in the regional semifinals. The region’s other quarterfinals feature No. 7 Carlisle against Maud and Lovelady against Dallardsville Big Sandy.
Class 1A Region III Quarterfinals
At Van High School
Cayuga 7, Overton 1
Cayuga 131 011 0 — 780
Overton 000 001 0 — 133
Jimmy Johnson, Jake Nash (6) and Jake Nash, Jared Walthall (6); Jesse Roach, Forrest Lee (6) and Tyler Rhodes; W — Johnson; L — Roach. 2B — C: Nash. O: Rhodes, A.J. McCasland.
RECORDS — Cayuga 26-3; Overton 18-10.
NEXT UP — Game 2: 7 p.m. Friday, Brownsboro.