Fruitvale’s Kian Johnston almost single-handedly lifted the Kariskoga Bats into the playoffs of the Swedish professional baseball league.
Three big hits and a timely walk from Johnston clinched two come-from-behind victories on the final day of the regular season to ensure a third-place finish.
The 23-year-old outfielder joined the five-team Elite Series league last March, and has excelled playing for the Bats.
But in a tight division, it all came down to the final two games of the season on Aug. 19. Two losses could have put the Bats out of the playoffs, but two wins would place the team in the top four and a berth to the semifinal.
Kariskoga faced second place Stockholm Monarchs in both matches. In the first match, Stockholm led 5-4 heading into the bottom of the ninth; but the Bats rallied with Alex Broddesson getting on base with a single to left-centre.
Johnston then came up and belted a two-run, walk-off home run to deep left field for a 6-5 victory.
The win was key, as the Bats now had a chance to finish in third spot and avoid playing the No. 1 seed Rattvik Butchers who had 21 wins and three losses.
In a wild second-half of the doubleheader, Johnston belted a three-run home run in his first at bat to give Kariskoga a 3-1 lead.
The Monarchs battled back scoring five runs to go up 6-3 in the sixth. But Kariskoga reciprocated plating five runs of their own in the bottom half for an 8-6 lead.
Stockholm, however, would not go away and counted runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to take a 9-8 lead.
The Bats rallied in the bottom of the ninth, scoring a run on an infield error to tie it. Then, with two out and the bases loaded, Johnson came to the plate. In almost story-book fashion, the former Trail Oriole fouled off three balls working the count to 3-and-2. He then watched the next pitch sail by, and walked in the winning run for a thrilling 10-9 victory.
Johnson and the Bats play Stockholm again in a best-of-three semifinal series, while first place Rattvik face fourth place Sundbyberg in the other South division series.
Johnston was also nominated for Player of the Week honours for his three hits in seven at bats, that included a double, two home runs, and six RBIs.
Johnston led the Swedish Elite Baseball League in home runs this season hitting nine in 24 games. He was in the top-5 in almost every hitting category including second in hits, 36, and total bases, 69, with a .396 batting average and 24 RBIs.
Johnston was named the Baseball Jobs Overseas Player of the Week for all of Euro baseball May 25-28, and his success was noted as a “Highlight” on the Canadian Baseball Network.
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