Pine-Richland grad Johnson leads Kent State batters

Sunday, May 15, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Josh Johnson sticks to the same regimen before every game.

He starts by drinking an energy drink. Then he puts his gloves and cleats on the exact same way every time.

After that he takes four rounds in the batting cage before taking batting practice every day.

Some would call what he does superstitious. He prefers the word routine.

One thing he admits he’s superstitious about, though, is that he doesn’t want to know his statistics.

“Any time somebody looks at my batting average I tell them not to tell me,” Johnson said.

Johnson may want to skip over the next sentence.

He led Kent State in batting average at .352 and had six doubles, one triple, six homers and 30 RBIs entering a four-game weekend series at Western Michigan, which began Friday.

It’s been a breakout campaign for the 2019 Pine-Richland grad. Prior to this season he had only 12 collegiate at-bats.

“I’ve stuck to the process and grinded through the season,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have the greatest start. I struck out a lot during the first couple series, but I kept with it and here we are. I kept believing in myself, and my teammates backed me up the entire way.”

Johnson did not play in Kent State’s abbreviated 2020 season that eventually was cancelled along with all of college baseball because of the pandemic. He mainly was used as a pinch hitter in 2021.

There were no guarantees on a starting spot coming into 2022, but Johnson earned one.

His breakout started with a homer against Bowling Green on April 9. He was 3 for 5 that game with three RBIs. Since then he’s recorded a hit in all but four games with eight multi-hit games.

Johnson drove in eight runs over a four-game set against Miami (Ohio), which included a walk-off single in a 10-9 win April 23.

While he’s been hitting a good clip, Johnson also has cut down significantly on his strikeouts. He struck out nine times over his first six games. Over the next 31 games he only struck out 16 times.

Johnson has a text chain going with former Pine-Richland teammates and best friends Matt Wood (Penn State) and Troy LaNeve (Vanderbilt). The trio grew up playing together and collectively chasing the dream of playing Division I college baseball.

It’s part of a strong support system he says has helped him flourish.

“(Kent State coaches) (Jeff) Duncan and (Barrett) Serrato have always had my back,” Johnson said. “They pushed me in the right direction with my swing and overall attitude towards the game. My teammates, my dad and my coaches have been my biggest supporters. They always push me upward and not down. It’s awesome to have a support system like that. You know they will always be there for you.”

Kent State had nine games remaining in the regular season prior to the series with Western Michigan. The Golden Flashes were seventh in the Mid-American Conference standings and would need to get into the top four to qualify for the MAC postseason tournament. The winner of the MAC Tournament receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Once the season at Kent State ends, Johnson will play summer ball for the Johnstown Mill Rats of the Prospect League. He also played in the Prospect League last season for the Alton (Ill.) River Dragons.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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