Johnson was especially overwhelming early on, striking out nine of his 13 batters over the first three innings. The lanky 6-foot-1 junior kept the Nitros off-balance with a mix of fastballs and off-speed pitches as he went through the order.
“It took us a full turn through the lineup to even have a chance to make contact,” Eberhart said.
But Glendale trotted out its own ace in junior Jack Porras, who surrendered only one earned run over 6 1/3 innings and, for the most part, kept pace with Johnson.
“It was tough,” Porras said. “He was throwing strike after strike after strike. I felt I had to step up my game to match him. And I think I did, but that one run kind of killed me. He beat me this time.”
The sole run for Royal came in the top of the second inning. Porras walked right fielder Bryce Moore, who then advanced to third following a single from center field Matt Sciumbato. Moore scored in the next at-bat on a squeeze play.
Porras, who struck out one batter while inducing a number of flyouts, stayed composed and kept his team in it over the remaining innings.
“Jack’s a good pitcher and we knew it,” Eberhart said. “We have to get confidence that any time he goes out there, we can win a game. And we’ve been kind of preaching that. If he’s on the mound, he’s good enough where we can beat anybody. And we almost did. That was the encouraging part.”
Glendale, which saw its first hit in the fifth inning when Lousararian dribbled a single up the middle, rallied late. And it nearly inched ahead, but over the final two innings, it stranded five runners, including three in scoring position.
In the bottom of the sixth, cleanup hitter Brandon Keen struck out swinging with a runner on second and first, ending the inning. And in the bottom of the seventh, with the bases loaded and two outs, leadoff batter Conner Rodriguez popped up to the first baseman in foul territory.
But Glendale, which is coming off a disappointing 3-19 season where it went 2-12 in the Pacific League, seemed encouraged despite the loss. The Highlanders are a Division I team from the Marmonte League that went 16-11 a year ago.
“That’s a good team from a good league” Eberhart said. “And this group had struggled last year, so it’s a big improvement for us. And I want to play good people. They would be one or two in the Pacific League without a doubt. Those are the type of teams you want to play and play them early.”