By Joe Gisondi
Meade Johnson’s walk-off double that lifted Mattoon to a 1-0 victory in the IHSA Regional 3 opener might not have even been his most impressive feat Thursday night.
The right-hander struck out 11, walked one and had a no-hitter until the sixth inning in an 81-pitch effort at Grimes Field.
But it wasn’t that either.
Consider this, though: After Johnson’s teammates bobbled a liner, mishandled a bunt and failed to handle a grounder to start the second inning, the senior buckled down by striking out three successive batters, relying on a mix of fastballs, curve balls and sliders.
“In that situation, you got nobody out and three people on, you’re looking for a K,” Johnson said. “You’re looking to strike somebody out, to get that first out. That way you can set up a double play.”
Johnson used a slider down and away to catch two batters and Gauge Massey then chased a slider away that tipped into the catcher’s mitt to shut down Effingham’s best scoring opportunity.
Effingham’s only other chance to score came in the fifth inning when Preston Latch reached third base in the fifth after he had been hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a sacrifice and moved over another base on a grounder to third before Johnson caught Wes Hull looking on an inside fastball for a third strike to end the inning. Johnson retired seven of the final eight batters.
Mattoon had two scoring opportunities early.
Kaiden Rice walked, Logan MacDonald reached base when Effingham’s second baseman dropped a soft liner and Johnson was intentionally walked before a fielders choice ended the second-inning threat.
Austin Baker led off with a double to right field the following inning but was forced to remain at third when Effingham shortstop Gauge Massey dived to knock down a grounder headed to center field. A grounder by Rice to the pitcher ended the inning.
After that, Effingham pitcher Jackson Lee retired 12 batters in row before Jason Skocy walked to lead off the seventh and set up the game-winning hit.
Johnson then ripped Lee’s first-pitch fastball to left-centerfield, sending Skocy around the bases.
“If it’s in the zone, I’m gonna hit it,” Johnson said. “So he gave me first-pitch fastball and I said, ‘You can’t miss fastball in that situation.’ And I was right on it.”
Mattoon coach Jarod Kiger never hesitated in sending his sophomore outfielder around the bases with no outs, knowing Skocy had enough speed to score.
“In that situation, we’re going to send him all day,” Kiger said. “From my angle, it looked like it was going to get to a gap.”
Skocy said he didn’t know how far the ball had gone, but he heard Kiger yelling for him from the third-base coaching box to keep running. “I rounded third and and coach Kiger was probably at home plate before I was.”
Mattoon faces the winner of Friday’s game between Olney and Troy Triad next Monday. Mattoon would play host to this 4:30 p.m. game, if Olney wins.