Johnson takes breath, leads Fairless Hills Steel in Summer Bash

By DN WRITING STAFF | August 14, 2022

Griffin Johnson of Fairless Hills Steel throws offering to Staten Island Orioles’ Tyler Ingerman.

By Joe Hofmann

Griffin Johnson was losing the plate.

At the rate he was going, he was about to lose the lead.

Time for a visit from coach Steve Martin, who was in no joking mood.

“Take a breath,” Martin told Johnson.

Magic words.

Poof! Johnson, who’d struggled with his control and had just walked the bases loaded, suddenly hit his stride and fanned the side 1-2-3.

Rally averted and the Staten Island Orioles bats were never heard from again.

His Fairless Hill Steel team wound up scoring an 11-1 mercy rule victory in a 15U Summer Bash tournament game at Diamond Nation Saturday afternoon.

Steel scored three in the first inning and six in the second to pull away and win in four innings, but the game had a smidgen of doubt in the top of the second inning.

Steel had just scored three in the bottom of the first for a 3-1 lead, but then Johnson walked Andrew Benitez, Tommy Chiaia, and Holden Pawlak to load the bases with no outs.

“I was overthrowing,” Johnson said later. “Coach (Martin) came out to give me a breath.”

“Take a breath, make your pitches, throw the ball down the middle of the plate,” Martin said. “Make them beat you.”

Armed with the ABC’s of pitching, Johnson regrouped and got Nick Hans looking at a fastball, Michael Pagan swinging through a fastball, and Henry Izzo looking at a fastball.

Crisis over and route on — with Johnson in the middle of the next big inning.

When Steel scored three in the bottom of the first, the top of the order showed off its muscle. Mike Roccograndi led off with a walk on a 3-2 pitch before Tyler Boraski singled to center, setting up Jake Plebami’s two-run triple to right center.

After Johnson lined out hard to short, Nate Gilson brought in Plebami with a 6-3 grounder.

But in the second, almost the entire Steel lineup got involved — and so did the Orioles, who threw to the wrong base in order to get a force out on two different occasions, stretching out the inning.

Steel’s Mason Keith singled and Richie Bayachek walked before the Orioles threw to third to get a force on Chase Comer’s bunt. But Keith was safe and the bases were loaded.

George Mitilineos of the Orioles delivers a pitch to Fairless Hills Steel on Saturday.

Gavon Lister brought home the first run on a bouncer to first to make it 4-1 before Roccograndi walked on another 3-2 pitch.

Boraski then hit a grounder to short and the shortstop threw late to third. All hands were safe and a run scored before Plebami hit a sacrifice fly, making it 6-1.

Johnson then lofted a long drive to right that scooted past the right fielder all the way to the wall.

“It felt really good off the bat, especially after the first one that I hit right at the shortstop,” he said. “I was rounding the bases as fast as I could. I’m not exactly the fastest.”

The triple chased starter George Mitilineos, who was replaced by Gio D’Angelo. D’Angelo got out of the inning to avert further damage.

The victory showed that Steel could bounce back well from defeat. Friday night, they absorbed a 10-2 drubbing by Canes Tri-State that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.

“We all stepped up after last night,” Johnson said. “We all talked about it. We didn’t like what happened to us.”

“We bounced back nicely,” Martin said. “That was a tough loss (Friday night).”

Steel put the game away with two in the fourth to win by the mercy rule. Lister walked and moved to third on Roccograndi’s double to right. Boraski later ended it with a sacrifice fly.

That was the official ending. The unofficial ending to the game might have been when Martin offered his encouraging words to Johnson back in the second.

“Once he came out, I felt a lot more confident,” Johnson said.

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