On a pitching staff depleted by injuries, Neil Johnson has emerged as the ace of the Dublin Jerome High School baseball team.
At 6-foot-8, it's not surprising that Johnson would take over that role. With sophomore Jared King missing time on the mound and junior Matt Boothe out with tendinitis in an elbow and a groin injury, Johnson has stepped in admirably.
"Neil has been tremendous as far as taking over the leadership," coach Chris Huesman said. "When you lose Jared King, who is hitting 86, 87 mph as a sophomore lefty, with a bone spur, it's a big blow. Jared would have been the ace."
Through 16 games, Johnson was 3-0 with a 0.80 ERA, 10 strikeouts and eight walks in 35 innings. He turned in complete-game efforts in a 3-2 win over Grove City on April 18 and 2-0 victory over OCC-Cardinal Division-rival Westerville South on April 21.
"He's just so tough to hit," Huesman said. "When you throw a ball and you're 6-8 and your release is so high, tracking that ball is very, very hard we've discovered on hitters."
The right-hander features a curveball and fastball, which has reached near 83 mph, according to Huesman.
"I can make the curveball do different things," Johnson said. "I throw fastballs and they hit grounders, so that keeps our team in the game, which is good."
"What he's developed is an off-speed pitch, a slider," Huesman said. "He was decent for the junior varsity, but he couldn't get his curveball over. He's developed a little slider that's keeping people off balance and is very good."
At the plate, Johnson had a double and two RBI in eight at-bats through 16 games.
"I like to hit, but I have been focusing on pitching so I haven't got to hit that much," said Johnson, who is in his first season on the varsity.
"Anytime you have a guy who is 6-6 as a freshman coming in, you know there's potential for him to be a very big guy and to be like a Randy Johnson," Huesman said. "The only stickler that we have with Neil is he doesn't finish and follow through. If he ever got that drive off the mound then he's going to be a good one."
Nick Sobel, Drew Whitson, Tyler Rosenbaum, Mike Adolph and Jason Pollo also have contributed on the mound, though the Celtics were just 7-9 through 16 games.
"We've had a bunch of mental lapses," Johnson said. "You can tell that we're young because we make too many mistakes. I think we'll do better, though. We just have to make sure when we're up on someone we keep them down. We don't want them to come back."
Johnson also plays basketball and last season was the starting center for the Celtics, who advanced to a Division I district semifinal before losing to Zanesville 64-52 to finish 16-6.
"It's kind of up to Neil at this point," Huesman said of his future. "If he developed a good changeup and added about five more miles an hour on his fastball, I think he would have a career in baseball, but anytime you have a guy who is 6-8 in basketball, too, you would think that would be his first thing."
Through 16 games, King had a team-best .413 average, seven doubles and 16 RBI. Josh Lento was batting .410 with 12 RBI, followed by Tyler Kiste (.409, 12 RBI), Alex Schillig (.372), Adolph (.348), Ben Sward (.320, 13 RBI), Pollo (.306) and Brett Mosher (.304).
At a glance
Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Jerome baseball team:
*April 21 -- Defeated Westerville South 2-0. Neil Johnson pitched a complete game.
*April 23 -- Lost to Olentangy 2-0
Last Friday -- Def. Jonathan Alder 11-9. Jared King had four hits, including a home run, and Robert Phillips had four hits. Jason Pollo was the winning pitcher.
Last Saturday -- Lost to Westerville Central 8-6; def. Big Walnut 21-10. Against Central, Tyler Kiste had three hits and Mike Adolph had two. Against Big Walnut, Tyler Rosenbaum was the winning pitcher and Alex Schillig and Josh Lento had four hits.
*Last Monday -- Def. Pickerington Central 4-1
*Last Wednesday -- Played Mount Vernon
Friday -- At Upper Arlington
Saturday -- Home vs. Westerville North (doubleheader)
*Monday -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne. Jerome lost 4-0 on April 16.
*Wednesday -- At Westerville South
Of note: The Celtics were 8-9 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Wednesday.