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Johnson Imperial Homes baserunner Kaden Evans beats the tag at home plate against Columbus catcher Justin Gaston Tuesday at Duncan Field.

For nearly seven full innings, the game between Johnson Imperial Homes and Columbus came down to the starting pitchers. But the game changed on just three pitches by relievers in the seventh inning.

The Braves style of play is to put pressure on the defense, and they did just that, as a bunt coupled with a Columbus error gave JIH a 2-1, walk-off victory.

“I thought it was two No. 1s going at it, and I think they both proved to both opponents why they’re the best pitchers on the pitching staffs,” said Hastings head coach Blake Marquardt. “We were very equal; I thought their guy limited free bases, and I thought our guy limited free bases. They got out one of innings and got ahead of a lot of hitters and I thought we did the exact same thing. When you can do those things, offenses tend to struggle because you have to string hits together; you can’t just play small ball or sacrifice things around. It was a hard fought game between two pitchers. Towards the end of the game, their guy got a little more tired, we went to the bullpen and our bullpen closed it, and their bullpen didn’t close it.”

Hastings starter Treyton Newman was dominant on the mound as he dueled with Columbus’ Caleb Van Dyke. Newman finished the game throwing 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run and six hits while striking out eight.

“It felt good knowing I can go into the inning without giving up hits,” Newman said. “I started pretty good, but my curveball wasn’t working so I threw the fastball more.”

Columbus’ one run came in the third inning, when Cody Zrust reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on a single after stealing second base.

Newman had terrific control of the strike zone, but he still had to battle out of a few jams. He stranded a pair of runners in three different innings, including baserunners on second and third in the opening frame. 

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Johnson Imperial Homes shortstop Beau Dreher tags out Columbus baserunner Tadan Bell Tuesday at Duncan Field.

With the game tied at 1-1, Newton allowed back-to-back one-out hits, but he struck out the next two batters to escape without any damage.

“I had to stay focused and keep a next-pitch mentality. If I threw a ball I had to make sure the next pitch is a strike, just keep the same confidence every inning,” Newton said. 

“I thought he commanded his fastball. He was able to command the outside of the strike zone well (Tuesday night). He got strike one often throughout the night, and he got up one and had the ability to get ground outs and weak fly balls. But when he got up on hitters, he had the strike out ability too,” Marquardt said.

After Columbus scored in the third, the Braves didn’t waste any time getting that run back. 

Nine-hole hitter Kaden Evans led off the inning with a walk and was bunted over to second by Braden Kalvelage. After Macrae Huyser reached on an error — which moved Evans to third — Beau Dreher lifted a fly ball to center field; Evans raced home on the catch, just beating the throw to the plate to tie the game.

JIH had just two base runners over the next three innings.

Newman retired the first two batters of the top of the seventh inning before being replaced by Luke Kirkegaard. It took Kirkegaard just one pitch to retire Columbus leadoff hitter Tanner Kobza and get the Braves into the bottom of the frame.

Cambren Montague got on base with a leadoff walk against Van Dyke. Robb Foote stepped up to the plate and tried to move the runner over with a bunt but quickly found himself in an 0-2 hole. But Foote took the next pitch to left field for a base hit. The hit chased Van Dyke out of the game after he went 6-plus innings and gave up four hits and one run.

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Johnson Imperial Homes' Treyton Newman pitches during their game against Columbus Tuesday at Duncan Field.

With runners on first and second and no outs, Evans laid down a bunt on the second pitch he saw. The ball placement and Evans’ speed rushed the play from reliever Ryan Eickhoff, as Evans reached first and the throw from Eickhoff sailed down the right field line, allowing the winning run to come in to score.

“It happened to be that (Van Dyke) lost it for a batter or two, and then we were able to get to the nine-hole hitter and bunt,” the Hastings coach said. “Once you get a first and second situation, now you can sacrifice, now you can bunt, now you can move runners to move defenses and things start moving around and it gets a little more chaotic for the defense.”

Tyson LeBar led JIH with two hits on the day, while Kalvelage and Foote had the other two Braves’ knocks. Dreher tallied the lone RBI for Hastings.

Johnson Imperial Homes will be back in action Wednesday at 5:30 with a game against York. Marquardt said Dreher will start the game on the mound for JIH.

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