JOHNSONBURG — Johnsonburg jumped out to an early lead and rode a dominant pitching performance from Gabe Watts to a 9-2 victory over Elk County Catholic at Knothole Park Tuesday.

After Watts retired the side in order in the top of the first behind a pair of strikeouts, the Rams got to work at the plate.

After Camron Marciniak reached on a leadoff walk, but then Crusaders starting pitcher Brady Schneider forced Ethan Wells to ground into a 6-4-3 double play as he looked to keep the game scoreless after the first.

Instead, Austin Green kept the inning alive by drawing a walk, then Zack Zameroski followed with a double to deep left field, before Dalton Stahli battled to draw a walk to load the bases.

Dom Allegretto followed with a bloop single to right to score Green and Zameroski to give Johnsonburg (5-3) an early 2-0 lead.

“We’re trying to get that into their heads that just because we’re down with two outs we can’t give up,” Johnsonburg head coach Frank Ferragine said.

“Bats finally came alive today for us at the right time. We’ve been struggling with getting the timely hits, but we got them today.”

Dan Wimer looked to lead ECC (4-4) to a big inning in the top of the second, as he led off with a double to straight away center field.

On the other side, ECC head coach said he felt his team played well on the defensive side, but did not come up with the hits they needed with runners in scoring position in the early innings.

“We’ve gotta jump on offense early, get the hits in early, we don’t like playing catchup baseball,” Slay said. “When we have the bases juiced and we don’t take advantage of that it’s disappointing, we at least need a run or two out of that.”

Watts then forced the next two batters to fly out as he looked to get out of the jam, but instead Alex Fedus and Brennen Klawuhn drew a pair of walks to load the bases.

Watts responded by blowing a fast ball by Tommy Slay to get out of the bases loaded jam and keep the Crusaders off the board.

Daunte Allegretto led off the home half of the second by reaching on a walk, then with one out and Marciniak up to bat, the Rams put on the hit-and-run.

With Daunte Allegretto breaking for second, Marciniak drove a double to the fence in center field, allowing the senior to come all the way around and score.

Marciniak, Green and Dom Allegretto all finished with two hits apiece, as Marciniak, Wells and Green each scored a pair of runs in the win.

Stahli and Dom Allegretto led the way for the Rams with three runs batted in apiece.

Wells followed by reaching on an infield single, then Green singled to left to bring home Marciniak for the second run of the frame.

Zameroski followed by drawing a walk to load the bases with one away, which ended the day for Schneider on the mound, as ECC turned to Will Uberti in relief.

Stahli then hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field to score Wells, as Green would later score the final run of the inning on a wild pitch to give the Rams a 6-0 lead after two innings of play.

Isaac Brock led off the third inning for the Crusaders by reaching on an error, as Tylor Herzing followed with a bunt single and Dan Wimer later reached on a hit by pitch to load the bases with one away.

Ryan Fritz then drew a walk to drive home Brock to get ECC on the board, but Watts limited the damage by striking out the next batter then forcing a fly out to center field, as the Crusaders left the bases loaded in back-to-back innings.

“Last year that would’ve got into Gabe’s (Watts) head and he wouldn’t have been able to handle that,” Ferragine said. “He’s matured a lot just in that one year.”

The two outs to end the top of the third started a stretch of 11 straight retired by Watts, as the sophomore retired the side in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings behind four strikeouts.

Uberti pitched well in relief for the Crusaders, allowing just one hit and one walk between the third and fifth innings, before the Rams broke through against the reliever in the bottom of the sixth to add insurance runs.

Just like in the first inning, Johsnonburg used a strong two-out approach to bring across three runs.

Marciniak led off with a single through the left side and Wells followed with a walk, as both runners eventually moved into scoring position with nobody out.

Uberti then retired the following two batters on a groundout back to the mound and a strikeout as he looked to escape the jam and keep it a five-run game.

Instead, Stahli drove a single to left to bring home both runners, as he was able to advance to second on a throw to the plate.

After Stahli moved over to third on a wild pitch, Dom Allegretto drove a pitch off the glove of Uberti on the mound and beat out the throw for an infield single to bring the score to 9-1.

Uberti finished with 4 2/3 innings pitched in relief, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four.

“I think Will (Uberti) came in and did a great job in relief,” Slay said. “As far as offensively, we left the bases loaded twice and that could have been a game changer for us.”

“I’d say I’m disappointed with the hitting, but we did put the bat on the ball just unfortunately we hit it to right where they were at.”

Klawuhn led off the top of the seventh with ECC’s first hit since the third inning, singling to right field before reaching second on a wild pitch and moving over to third on a groundout by Slay.

Brock followed with a sacrifice fly to right to bring home Klawuhn for the final run of the game, as the batter was the final one for Watts on the mound.

The starter went 6 2/3 innings allowing three hits and two runs, one earned, while walking three and striking out eight to secure the win for Johnsonburg.

“Gabe (Watts) did a great job today, we pitched him all the way to the limit,” Ferragine said.

Green then took over on the mound, as Herzing and Hunter Cashmer each singled off the reliever with two outs, before the junior pitcher was able to strike out the next batter to end the game.

Herzing finished with two of the Crusaders’ five hits in the loss, while Brock played a role in each of ECC’s runs, driving in Klawuhn and scoring on Fritz’s RBI.

“The team energy was just not where it needed to be and I think we took ourself out of the game before it was even over,” Slay said.

Elk County is back in action today as it hosts DuBois Central Catholic at 4:15 p.m., while Johnsonburg returns to the diamond Thursday at home against Curwensville.

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