116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — T.J. Johnson did his best impression of a Swiss Army knife.
He did a little bit of everything for Coe Thursday afternoon — a quality start on the mound, team-high in hits at the plate, scored runs and drove in more.
Johnson wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I like to contribute in any way I can,” Johnson said. “It gives me and my teammates a boost of confidence.”
Johnson pitched eight innings, tallied three hits, scored twice and drove in two runs, helping 14th-ranked Coe to a 7-3 victory over Central in the first round of the American RIvers Conference baseball tournament at Mount Mercy’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex.
“Big-time player showing up off the get-go in a big-time moment,” Coe Coach Steve Cook said of Johnson. “We’ve come to rely on it, expect it, but at the same time you know on any given day the team has to find different ways to win. He’s been providing a stable piece of our lineup. He’s just a complete player.”
On the mound, Johnson stifled Central batters most of the game, scattering six hits. He improved to 10-1 this season, striking out nine with just one walk. Jordan Kaplan threw a scoreless ninth to close.
Offensively, the senior reached base in his first four at-bats, going 3-for-5. He sparked a two-out rally in the first with a single to center. Kaplan followed with a single and both scored on a T.J. Deardorff double for a 2-0 lead.
Johnson led off the third with a triple and scored on Kaplan’s sacrifice fly. The former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep added a two-run single to score Daniel Hawes and Isaac Evans, making it 6-4 in the fourth.
He takes pride in his versatility.
“There are benefits to both,” Johnson said. “When you can pitch well and not allow the team to score runs, obviously that is cool, but it’s nice to be able to hit, score runs and help your cause.”
Central cut Coe’s lead in half in the fourth at 4-2. Lucas Farren led off with a single and Trevor Kimm connected on a two-run home run. Johnson buckled down, allowing just five runners the rest of the way. He also seemed more efficient, throwing just 21 total pitches from the fifth through seventh.
“He was really able to settle in,” Cook said. “I think it was a key component of the game. All the momentum started to shift on a two-run home run like that, even though we had the lead. He quieted it down quickly.”
The Kohawk defense made a big impact, turning four double plays. Two came off of Tyler Elliott catches in right field. The first was a running grab and throw to double a runner off second base to end the second inning. The next was an exciting diving catch and throw to first in the sixth.
Coe’s infield added 6-4-3 and 5-4-3 double plays in the seventh and ninth, respectively.
“We’ve been building toward a team that is fundamentally going to expect success based on pitching and defense,” Cook said. “We fulfilled that. Guys are running around. We’re a pretty athletic group. Tyler Elliott with an unbelievable diving catch.
“This game has subtle changes in momentum and I think our defense also created those moments for us.”
Every Coe batter reached base at least once and eight had at least one hit for 12 total. Kaplan and Evans had two hits apiece. Hawes scored twice in a balanced attack.
“When we’re doing the little things, we’re pretty hard to beat,” Johnson said. “Pitch and play defense and when you hit you’re seeing the ball well. We become a hard team to beat.”
Central lost an elimination game to Dubuque, finishing the season at 14-27 overall.
BUENA VISTA TOPS COE
Fourth-seeded Buena Vista defeated Coe, 2-0, in the winner’s bracket final Thursday night.
The Beavers’ Tyler Tennyson pitched a complete game, six-hit shutout. He struck out six and walked none.
Buena Vista’s Easton Bahr delivered a two-run single, scoring Ryley McGregor and Logan Mueller.
T.J. Deardorff tossed a complete game for Coe, allowing just four hits. He struck out nine without a walk.
Coe’s Tyler Elliott led both teams with two hits.
The Kohawks (33-6) will face No. 5 Dubuque (18-23) in an elimination game Friday at noon. The winner will face Buena Vista (21-21) in the pod championship.