Johnson outduels Pick, Bulls take 1-0 lead
JACKSON -- Kirby Johnson and Ryan Rasche combined to throw a four-hit shutout Wednesday night, as the First Nite League champion Jackson Bulls opened up their best-of-five Region 13C playoff series with a 3-0 victory over the Luverne Redbirds.
A draftee from Windom, Johnson (four hits, four walks, three strikeouts) went 7 2/3 innings and out dueled Luverne's Jared Pick. The Redbirds' ace left-hander also hurled 7 2/3 innings, striking out 15 Bulls and allowing just five walks, three hits and one run.
"Pick is one of the premier pitchers in our region," Bulls manager Scott Bahr said. "We feel very fortunate to beat a pitcher of his caliber."
Trent Sukalski's RBI single in the third inning staked the Bulls to an early 1-0 lead, and Johnson made the lead hold up. Rasche came on with a man on second and two outs in the eighth, and retired four straight batters to end the game and secure Jackson's victory.
Jackson's Kip Wachal provided some big insurance runs with a two-out, two-run home run over the left-field fence in the eighth, giving the Bulls a 3-0 lead heading into the ninth.
After Johnson got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the third, Jackson's Caleb Rossow singled to left with one out in the bottom half of the frame. Two batters later, Sukalski bounced a single between short and third to score Rossow for a 1-0 Jackson lead.
Luverne had a pair of chances to tie the game or take the lead, as the Redbirds put a pair of runners on base in both the fourth and sixth innings. But Johnson and the Bulls' defense -- which committed no errors -- kept the Gopher League runners-up off the scoreboard.
"Kirby did a good job of throwing strikes and letting Luverne put the ball in play," Bahr said. "Our defense responded by making the plays."
Pick kept Luverne in the game, as he was mowing Jackson hitters down left and right. However, with a high pitch count, Luverne brought in veteran Kent Woelber -- a draftee from Pipestone -- to pitch with two outs in the eighth.
Matt Bezdicek reached on an error before Wachal blasted a full-count pitch to deep left, giving the Bulls a 3-0 lead.
Rasche then set the Redbirds down in order in the ninth to record the save.
Johnson had a single for Jackson (16-12), and Andy Wolf walked twice and stole a base.
Tyler Reisch, Matt Oye and Jeff Sehr each had a single for Luverne, while James Fisher lined a double to left in the eighth -- prompting Jackson to relieve Johnson with Rasche.
The two teams meet again Friday in Luverne at 7:30 p.m.
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