Granted a final, if not abbreviated, opportunity to don Jefferson baseball gear, Johnny Knox took full advantage of the circumstances laid out on Tuesday morning.
The senior tallied both of Jefferson’s hits, scored their only run, and earned the final five outs in their opening performance of the Last Dance World Series. Jefferson prevailed in 1-0 fashion over Randolph at Skylands Stadium, which is hosting the Upper Morris Regional portion of the statewide high school baseball competition.
“Overall, I think, for the first time out playing real baseball, we really couldn’t have done much better,” Knox said after the win.
To open the Upper Morris proceedings, Jefferson and Randolph engaged in the summer tradition of a pitchers’ duel on a field that previously hosted MLB All-Stars Dan Haren and Matt Morris during its days as a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate. The two teams combined for only four hits over seven innings of play in the opening thriller. Only Knox broke through for Jefferson, the designated home squad.
The Nichols College-bound Knox led off the bottom of the first inning with a double. He was left on base at the end of the frame but took matters into his own hands when he singled three innings later. As the school’s leader in stolen bases last season, Knox was always a threat to run, but two Randolph errors in trying to pick him off made him downright deadly.
Situated on first, Knox went for second and reached easily when the pickoff attempt sailed into the outfield. When he slid into third during in the ensuing chaos, he lost his helmet…but gained the run necessary for the win.
“I lost my helmet, so I got a little scared sliding into third. I had to cover my head up,” Knox recalled. “But then I just turned, I heard everyone yell ‘run’. I tried to dive at home too, make it look a little cool. It was just pure excitement, pure enjoyment to play.”
Jefferson held a slim lead in the game’s latter stages, but ran into trouble during the penultimate sixth frame. After Randolph put a man on base via an error, Knox went to the mound in relief of Zach Roskowsky with one out. He immediately surrendered a leadoff double and loaded the bases up by hitting the next batter with a pitch.
But Jefferson exhaled after Knox escaped trouble, forcing a strikeout and a groundout to end Randolph’s final threat. He would pitch a perfect seventh to wrap things up and secure the save. Roskowsky, bound for County College of Morris, struck out four over 5⅓ frames of one-hit ball to secure the win.
Looking back at the jam in the sixth, Knox recalled an incident from his sophomore season, his first on the varsity team, when he made an error that put the Falcons in dire straights. But a great play from an upperclassman, shortstop Justin Randzio allowed them to escape scott-free.
Metaphorically filling Randzio’s shoes, Knox knew he had to come through for his teammates.
“Me and a bunch of the guys, we were in the weight room, we worked really hard all offseason,” Knox said. “Just to get the season taken away really stunk. But we kept our heads up, we kept working in quarantine. We would be at the field almost every day,” Knox recalled. “My guys, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t really be hitting the ball or throwing that many pitches because we did it every day together. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to play as well as I did today.”
Jefferson will now play the winner of a matchup between Roxbury and Rockaway, the latter representing Morris Hills.
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