Pitching and defense will win a lot of baseball games, and Caleb Johnson and Devin Hairston were prime examples of that for Tates Creek on Tuesday night.
Johnson stayed unbeaten on the mound and Hairston was flawless at shortstop as the No. 6 Commodores beat 43rd District rival and host Lafayette 5-2.
Johnson, a senior righthander, improved to 5-0 (0.83 ERA) by working 62⁄3 innings. He had six strikeouts, gave up seven hits, hit a batter but didn't walk anybody.
It was a much better result than the last time Johnson faced Lafayette. Three weeks ago he pitched into the sixth inning before being lifted with a 1-0 lead.
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The Generals rallied for seven runs in the seventh to hand the Commodores their only loss in the district.
"That was unfortunate," Johnson said of the last matchup. "This was better for sure."
Not that he didn't have to sweat out this finish.
With Tates Creek up 5-1, Johnson struck out Lafayette's lead-off man in the bottom of the seventh, but then surrendered consecutive singles to Austin Messner, Matt Trimble and Johnny Fangmeyer to load the bases.
Kylan Nelson grounded out to first to drive in a run, making it 5-2.
Nick Richmond came on in relief of Johnson with the tying run at the plate.
Richmond got a strikeout to end the Generals' comeback hopes.
"I just came out and tried to do my job," Johnson said. "I try to pound the zone but not try to overpower them too much. We've got a strong defense behind us and I've gotta realize that."
The key to that defense is Hairston, the slick-fielding junior shortstop. He handled six ground balls without a hiccup, and teamed with second baseman Austin Younce on two nifty double plays.
One of them came in the sixth when Lafayette's first two batters — Eric Vanderboegh and Darius Hughes — singled. After Johnson struck out the next batter, Younce, Hairston and first baseman Jordan Fucci got the inning-ending double play.
Hairston said having a quick-working, zone-pounding pitcher like Johnson "is huge with the defense. It keeps us on our toes, ready to make plays. We have faith in our pitchers, and they have faith in us."
Hairston also helped supply the offense. He went 3-for-4, including a pair of doubles, scored three times and drove in a run.
Jeff Chapuran also had three hits and had an RBI.
Luke Rouse had a triple and single, and drove in a run with each hit.
Lafayette Coach Chris Langston said he liked the way his No. 25 Generals competed, especially pitcher Josh Dunn.
The senior righty was hit hard in the first two innings when Tates Creek built a 4-1 lead, but he settled down after that.
"I thought Josh grew up tonight," Langston said. "He finally figured out what he has to do. I was real proud of the way he pitched those last innings."
Tates Creek improved its district record to 5-1 and is in the driver's seat in pursuit of the top seed for the post-season tournament.
"We had two tough losses (to St. Xavier and Manual in the Louisville Invitational Tournament) over the weekend," Hairston said. "We were ready to get back on the field and play Tates Creek baseball."
Tates Creek 220 000 1—5 10 0
Lafayette 100 000 1—2 7 1
Caleb Johnson, Nick Richmond (7) and Nathan Black. Josh Dunn and Matt Trimble. 2B—Devin Hairston 2 (TC), JaVon Shelby (TC), Graham Carmack (L). 3B—Luke Rouse (TC).
Records—Tates Creek 14-5; Lafayette 14-8