News and Tribune

Floyd County Sports

May 14, 2014

H.S. BASEBALL: Johnson has become New Albany's dependable ace

Senior starting, relieving for Bulldogs

NEW ALBANY — In every high school baseball season, there is at least one standout pitcher from the Clark-Floyd area that the majority of batters do not want to face.

In 2014, that pitching ace is New Albany’s Brandon Johnson.

The hard-throwing senior right-hander has had a great year on the mound for the Class 4A No. 3 Bulldogs. Johnson was a perfect 7-0 before suffering his first loss of the season in the opening round of the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament on Tuesday at Jennings County. The Panthers won 2-1.

Entering Tuesday’s game, Johnson had a 1.17 ERA and 69 strikeouts. He also allowed 26 hits and 16 walks for a WHIP (walks plus hits allowed divided by innings pitched) of 1.00.

Johnson has a three-pitch repertoire, consisting of a fastball, a slider and a curve ball. The fastest Johnson’s fastball has reached is 91 miles per hour, but he says his slider is the pitch that makes him really effective.

“I really like to live on my slider. I like to keep them off-balance,” Johnson said. “When I’m on the mound, I just make sure I throw strikes. I challenge our infield and challenge our outfield. I want to give everybody a challenge.”

Johnson says it is vital that his body is loose and feeling good before he takes the hill.

“My mission before the game is to make sure my body is ready and make sure I’m good and stretched,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to get to the fifth inning and pull something in a big game and have to come out. I want to make sure I’m strong and healthy throughout the full game.

“When I’m starting, [New Albany head coach Chris McIntyre] usually lets me complete the game. Before the game, I just keep my mind on that and tell myself not to overdo it the first couple of innings.”

It also is important to have a solid defense behind you, and Johnson has lots of faith in the Bulldogs’ fielders.

“They can hit a pop-up and I can start walking towards the dugout,” Johnson said. “I’m really confident in our defense. I know everybody will lay out [on the ground] if they have to do and get dirty.”

McIntyre has been impressed with his No. 1 pitcher’s season thus far.

“He’s been very consistent. He had one bad inning against Evansville Reitz [on April 26], and outside of that, he’s been exactly what we felt we’d get out of him this year,” the veteran Bulldogs’ manager said. “He’s thrown strikes and he’s tough to hit. He throws hard and has an above-average breaking ball. If you can throw a breaking ball over the plate in high school, you’re going to be difficult to hang with.”

Throughout the season, McIntyre has asked Johnson to pitch in relief to help New Albany pull out some close games.

One of those contests was against archrival Jeffersonville on April 23 at Mt. Tabor Field. With the score tied at six, Johnson entered the game in the top of the eighth inning and shut down the high-powered Red Devils. He threw four scoreless and hitless innings to pick up his fifth win in New Albany’s 7-6 triumph in 11 frames. Johnson struck out seven and walked one.

“I never defeated Jeff since I was 8 years old. I could strongly say I was more ready to come out that night than any other night, although I did not know that I was going to have to come in,” said Johnson, who has one save and started just five games this season. “I am a starting pitcher. But whatever Coach Mac needs me to do, I’ll get it done.”

Among all the tough hitters Johnson has faced in his high school career, he says the most challenging batters for him to get out our Jeffersonville shortstop Drew Ellis and Floyd Central catcher Trey Fulton. Johnson has lots of respect for Ellis, who has signed a national letter of intent to play at Louisville next season.

“Drew Ellis is definitely the toughest hitter I’ve had to throw against in high school,” Johnson said. “Drew’s just got a great swing — it’s beautiful. He can hit it anywhere he wants on the field or over the fence. Wherever he wants to put it, the ball is going there.”

McIntyre thinks Johnson has been able to get out of tough situations and get challenging hitters out because he has done a better job keeping his emotions in check.

“I think he stays under control a little bit more [than in the past],” McIntyre said. “He would get excited in a big game or a big situation, and he’s learned to settle down a little bit better. He doesn’t let the moment get the best of him anymore.”

Along with being the Bulldogs’ ace, Johnson has been one of the team leaders this year. Johnson has tried to be very supportive of his teammates during the 2014 campaign.

“I always make sure I’m the first one to tell them that they did a good job or they made a good play,” Johnson said. “I want everybody to feel as comfortable on the field as I am. Tanner Goller did a great job throwing strikes [last Thursday in a 3-0 victory over Providence]. I think he really felt confident and that’s what I want from all of the pitching staff. I want us all to feel confident, and just feel like we can let them hit the ball and our defense is right behind us.”

The Bulldogs have high goals this season as they want to capture the Class 4A New Albany Sectional title. Johnson plans on doing all he can to lead New Albany to the crown.

“We always talk about in practice that we don’t want to look back and say, ‘What if?’” Johnson said. “We really just want to give it our all and look back and say we don’t have no regrets at all. Of course, we would love to win … a sectional title.

“Teams like Floyd Central and Jeff — I would say two of the top five hitting teams in the state — are two teams we’ll have to face at sectional and all of our guys know that. We’ve played against them the past two years and they’ve had great teams. All three of us have been in the top 10 [in the Class 4A coaches’ poll this year].

“We’re going to have to buckle down and keep swinging. We really just need everybody to come out focused and everybody keep their eye on the ball.”

Johnson has signed a national letter of intent to play baseball next season at Xavier University. He said he is looking forward to playing at the Big East Conference school in 2015.

“I felt like that was the main school [in his college search],” Johnson said. “They really had confidence in me. They’ve just moved to the Big East, so I thought I could really step in there and maybe get my name out there with the new conference. [Xavier pitching coach Nick Otte] is just a great man and a great friend. He embraced me as soon as I walked on campus. He really doesn’t talk much business, but he’s more like a friend and that’s what I was really looking for.”

Johnson will become teammates at Xavier with former Jeff pitcher and last year’s News and Tribune Area Player of the Year, Trent Astle. The 6-foot-3 left-hander is currently a freshman for the Musketeers.

“It’s actually a coincidence that we’re both going to end up there,” Johnson said. “As soon as they started talking to me, I really connected with Trent over there and found out everything that was happening with him and how he thought his decision turned out. He just loves it. He loves the school and the program.

“It’s definitely going to be awesome going in with a friend. I played with him in Little League, so we’re friends. We’re definitely going to connect when I get up there, and I’m going to learn a lot from him. He’s probably the smartest pitcher I’ve ever seen.”

McIntyre thinks Johnson has a chance to contribute right away at Xavier.

“He will be there with a couple of kids that he knows who are Indiana guys, which will help him,” McIntyre said. “They play in a good conference. They play a good schedule. Their midweek games are teams like Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State, so he’s going to have a chance to play against good competition. I expect him to come in as a freshman and get some innings.”

 

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