O’FALLON, MO. – At the conclusion of the first weekend of the Frontier League baseball season, one thing is clear – River City’s drafting of second baseman Brandon Johnson was one of the best moves made by any team in the league this past offseason.
At least that’s what fans that came to T.R. Hughes Ballpark this past weekend were thinking, after Johnson began his Rascals career with a brilliant first three games that included seven hits in 12 at-bats (.583 batting average), two homers, three doubles, and five RBIs.
Johnson put an exclamation point on his River City debut on Sunday, with a three-for-four day at the plate, which included two homers, three RBIs, and three runs scored in a Rascals 8-0 win over the visiting Normal CornBelters.
River City made Johnson their first pick (fourth overall) in the May 3 Frontier League Amateur Draft, after seeing that he had completely recovered from the injuries that cut his 2009 season with the Gateway Grizzlies short and cost him the entire 2010 season.
Johnson appeared at the Frontier League national tryout in Florence, Ky., and by all accounts, was the best player there.
He signed with the Rascals the following day, joined the team for the first day of spring training on May 5, and has been one of the best players on the team ever since.
And he’s been proving that all weekend.
In Friday’s season opener, Johnson scored River City’s first run in a 2-1 16-inning win. Then on Saturday, he had three hits and drove in the what were the game-tying runs at the time in a 4-3 loss to the CornBelters.
But Sunday was Johnson’s piece-de-resistance.
First, he led off the bottom of the third, with a solo homer, his first of the season and first as a Rascal to put the home team on the board.
Then, after Bobby Burk and Stephen Holdren drove in runs later in the inning to make it 3-0, Johnson added his second bomb of the game, a two-run shot in the sixth, to make it 5-0 River City.
Johnson finished his night off with a double in River City’s three-run eighth, which made for an easy night for Rascal winning pitcher Zach Sterner (1-0).
The righthander from Franklin, Pa., was as magnificent on the mound Sunday, as Johnson was at the plate all weekend, tossing a three-hit, complete-game shutout for River City (2-1), which won its first series of the season for the first time since 2009.
Sterner got the CornBelters out in order in the first, then gave up a single and a stolen base in the second inning, but never allowed another CornBelter (1-2) batter to get past first base the rest of the night.
In the 2-hour, six-minute ballgame, Sterner threw just 89 pitches (63 strikes), and faced the minimum 21 batters over the final seven innings, erasing both base-runners he did allow on double-play balls, which included a leadoff single and subsequent double play in the top of the ninth.
Normal’s Bobby Pritchett (0-1) took the loss, allowing five runs and seven hits in six innings work.
The entire league will take the day off on Monday, but will return to action on Tuesday, May 24.
Normal will head to Kentucky to for a three-game set with the Florence Freedom, while River City will host the crosstown rival Gateway Grizzlies for three mid-week games at T.R. Hughes Ballpark.
Righthander Ryan Zink will start for the Rascals on Tuesday, while the Grizzlies will counter with its own righty in Adrian Garza.
All three ballgames at T.R. Hughes this week are slated to start at 7:05 p.m.
Other Frontier League scores from Sunday:
Southern Illinois Miners 2 Gateway Grizzlies 0
Florence Freedom 10 Evansville Otters 2
Traverse City Beach Bums 7 Rockford RiverHawks 4