KEARNS Finally, Nic Johnston is getting the opportunity to showcase his baseball skills on a big stage.
Johnston, a Riverton graduate who is destroying opposing pitching in the American Legion state tournament, hit a two-run home run and had a total of four RBIs to lead Taylorsville to a 6-2 win over Smithfield on Tuesday night. The victory puts Taylorsville in the winners' bracket final against Cyprus tonight.
Johnston suffered a devastating injury when he tore his ACL just two weeks before the 2008 high school season began. He was set to star for an experienced Riverton team, but didn't get to play until he was used as a designated hitter in the 5A tournament. Several Riverton baseball players were playing pickup basketball when Johnston blew out his knee in February.
"All of the starters were playing and I was the lucky one to get injured," Johnston said. "It sucked. It hit me hard. It hit me really hard."
Less than six months after Johnston tore his ACL, Legion pitchers are saying the same thing about Johnston's bat. He has hit three home runs in three games in the state tournament. His biggest hit of the tournament came when he blasted a grand slam against Tooele on Monday.
"He kills the ball all the time," said Taylorsville pitcher Tyler Curtis.
For Johnston, his experience playing Legion ball is somewhat making up for his lost senior season at Riverton.
"I've had a lot of (baseball) experiences and this is really something," Johnston said. "I never played Legion before and it's a whole new game. Anyone can beat anyone on a given day. It's tough."
Johnston got the Warriors on the scoreboard with a two-run single in the third inning. It was almost all the offense Curtis would need in the game. Curtis, whose fast ball was clocked between 87 and 90 miles per hour during the contest, was overpowering against the Aztecs. He recorded 10 strikeouts in six innings of work. He gave up two runs, but they were scored because of defensive breakdowns.
"He's nasty," Johnston said. "I'd hate to be up there facing him."
It's likely that one more team will have to face Curtis in the tournament. After Taylorsville's win on Tuesday night, Curtis ran 10 poles at Oquirrh Park and not because the Aztecs didn't give him enough of a workout. He wanted to keep his arm loose so that he'll be healthy enough to throw one more time for Taylorsville in the tournament.
Danny Nevling started for Smithfield and threw well. He recorded eight strikeouts while holding Taylorsville to its lowest scoring output during the tournament. The Aztecs will play Northern League rival Blacksmith Fork today.
In the other winners' bracket game:
CYPRUS 11, KEARNS 3: Brock Moltz, Cyprus' usual centerfielder, made a rare pitching start and threw a two-hitter against Kearns. Austin Shakespear led the Pirates' offense with a home run.
SPARTANS 8, GRANTSVILLE 4: Chris Grandinetti continued his stellar play in the state tournament, as he hit a three-run triple to give the Spartans the lead in the first inning. Ryan Matson doubled and tripled for the Spartans.
CEDAR CITY 5, TAYLORSVILLE U17 0: K.C. Harris gave Cedar City the lead for good with a two-run double in the second. Kai Eldredge threw a two-hitter for Cedar City, and Dillon Jolley hit a solo home run in the sixth.
TOOELE 5, HELPER 2: Zac Clausing, the game's winning pitcher, drove in the winning run in the eighth inning, and Miguel Esparza added some insurance runs with a two-run double as Tooele eliminated Helper.BLACKSMITH FORK 18, MURRAY 4: Derek Pond went 4-for-4 and drove in five runs to pace Blacksmith Fork, which scored 13 runs in the first inning. Kyler Webb threw a complete game.
At Oquirrh Park, Kearns
Taylorsville vs. Cyprus, 7 p.m.
Blacksmith Fork vs. Smithfield, 4 p.m.
Tooele vs. Kearns, 5 p.m.
Cedar City vs. Spartans, 8 p.m.