Panthers fall to Johnstown in tournament


Fairbanks shortstop Mason Cushman, right, shows the ball after making the tag on Johnstown’s stolen base attempt Thursday evening. The Panthers, though, dropped the Division III tournament game to the Johnnies by a score of 8-0.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)


There is a baseball adage as old as the ages that says a good hitting team will have big problems if it runs up against a standout pitcher.
The Fairbanks Panthers were the victims of that on Thursday during a Division III tournament game against Johnstown.
FHS took a solid team batting average of .349 into the contest that was played on its home diamond.
The Panthers’ sticks, however, were no match for Johnnies’ pitcher Luke Myers, who threw an 8-0 shutout.
“He’s probably one of the best pitchers we’ve seen all season,” said FHS coach Josh Rine, whose seventh-seeded Panthers ended the 2019 campaign with an 18-9 record.
Myers’ numbers support that claim.
He tossed a one-hitter, with the lone Fairbanks safety coming on Braxton Wilhelm’s first-inning single.
FHS later got three runners on board by walks and another on a fielding miscue.
They were left stranded, though, as Myers fanned nine batters and was supported by an otherwise solid defense.
The eighth-seeded Johnnies (17-10) appeared as though they might strike early when they loaded the bases in the visitors’ portion of the first inning.
FHS starting pitcher Jaeden Eickhoff, however, benefitted from an infield fly popup and a groundball twin killing to get out of the jam.
The Panther junior kept the Johnnies off the scoreboard during the second, but things began to unravel in the top of the third.
Cole Workman reached on an error, but was caught stealing when FHS catcher John Pastirzyk gunned the ball down to shortstop Mason Cushman.
The infielder made the swiping tag and revealed the ball to the umpire for the out.
Jaren Hewitt followed with a single and went to second on a wild pitch.
Derek Foe singled and advanced a base on the throw in from the outfield.
With two runners in scoring position, Justin LaRochelle ripped a base hit to give the visitors a 2-0 edge.
Johnstown took a 3-0 lead two batters later when Fairbanks committed its second fielding miscue of the inning.
Neither team put up much of a fight with the bats during the fourth as both Eickhoff and Myers quickly worked from the bump.
The Johnnies climbed to a 4-0 lead in the fifth when Hewitt sent an Eickhoff pitch screaming out of the yard over the 303-foot right field fence.
Myers, who displayed excellent velocity with his fastball and good control of his curve, kept the Panthers off-balance for the rest of the afternoon.
His teammates staked him to a 6-0 lead with a pair of runs in the sixth.
Jackson Peloquin reached base on Fairbanks’ third error and moved to second on Bryce Banasch’s sacrifice bunt.
Eickhoff plunked Wes Myers with a pitch to put runners at first and second.
Eickhoff notched a strikeout, but moved both Peloquin and Banasch into scoring position when he was called for a balk.
Hewitt made that mistake even more painful when his single brought in both runners for the six-run advantage.
Eickhoff reached 103 pitches in the top of the seventh after surrendering a lead-off double to LaRochelle.
That was the 11th hit he yielded for the game.
Wilhelm was summoned to the hill and successfully fielded Myers’ sacrifice bunt that moved LaRochelle to third base.
Wilhlem, though, hit Tyler Arter with a pitch.
Arter, in turn, swiped second to put two runners in scoring position.
A fielder’s choice out gave the Johnnies their seventh run and a base hit from Banasch pushed the eighth score across the board.
Myer, who tossed 93 pitches during the complete-game victory, got the first two Panthers out in the bottom of the seventh.
He issued a harmless walk to Alex Blumenschein and then induced a line drive out to center field to wrap up the game.
“Johnstown is just a very solid baseball team in all facets of the game,” said Rine. “We knew we were going to run into a buzz saw with Myers and we also knew that we’d have to play a perfect defensive game in order to win.
“We just didn’t do that and it showed on the scoreboard.”
J’town 003 012 2-8 12 1
FHS 000 000 0-0 1 3
WP: Myers
LP: Eickhoff

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