Johnson leads PB Tigers to win over Southwest Arkansas


J’Marlos Johnson told Pine Bluff Tigers coach Ernest Wooten he wanted to pitch on Saturday.

Wooten asked the recent graduate of Pine Bluff High School how many innings he could throw.

Johnson told his coach he could throw seven; he only needed five.

Thanks to a 26-minute, five-run top of the first inning and Johnson’s dominance on the mound the Tigers earned a 5-2 win over Southwest Arkansas in a time-limit shortened game at Eddie Bryan Field.

It was the Tigers (2-2) final pool-play game of the Jim Hill Wood Bat Invitational. The Tigers got a forfeit win over Crossett on Friday but lost to Camden (17-19’s), 8-1, earlier Saturday to finish pool play with a 2-1 mark. With one pool-play game yet to be played, it’s unknown whether the Tigers will play in Sunday’s tournament championship game.

If it was their final in the tourney, the Tigers made sure to go out in style, and Johnson had a lot to do with it.

“My arm felt good,” he said after the game. “I just try and let them hit it and let my defense make plays.

“And they made the plays.”

Johnson allowed single unearned runs in the first two innings as Southwest Arkansas closed to within 5-2. He responded with three dominant 1-2-3 innings to close out the game, which had a 1 hour, 45 minute time-limit.

“That was an outstanding performance,” Wooten said of Johnson. “He came up to me earlier and said, ‘Coach, I want pitch (Saturday).’

“I asked him how many innings he could go and he said he could go seven. It was pretty hot out there, but he did an outstanding job.”

With the heat reaching the low-90s on Saturday, Wooten thought Johnson’s ability to limit his pitch-count was key.

“That was very important,” he said. “J’Marlos is one of those pitchers, who stays around the strike zone. …

“When he’s pitching you’ve got to be ready defensively.”

Johnson was able to pitch without much fear after his team scored five runs in the top of the first inning.

“It felt good knowing I had some cushion,” he said.

The Tigers took advantage of the control issues of Southwest Arkansas starting pitcher Cameron Robinson. In total, Robinson gave up one hit and five walks, while recording just one out before being replaced by Zach Ware. All five runs, including Johnson, who reached on a walk, were charged to Robinson.

“Our approach in the first inning was great,” Wooten said. “We were very patient.

“After only scoring one run the first game, it was nice to put some runs on the board early.”

After that inning, Ware held the Tigers in check — not allowing a single runner to reach third base. Wooten gave Ware credit, but also said his team got away from their approach.

“You have to give him credit,” he said of Ware. “He did exactly what a relief pitcher is supposed to do. He shut us down, but we needed a better approach at the plate.

“Quite frankly our approach was terrible.”

Thankfully for the Tigers, Johnson made sure their five-run inning was plenty of support. He said afterward he hopes the outing is signs of things to come.

“It definitely boost my confidence,” he said. “I didn’t really play much during the high school season, because I’d broke my arm.

“So to be able to pitch like this is great.”