Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Week: Quaker Valley’s Christian Johnson
By: Don Rebel
Sunday, April 21, 2019 | 9:32 PM
School: Quaker Valley
In a five-year period from 2013-17, Quaker Valley baseball was a legitimate contender. While the Quakers did not strike gold in their run, they did reach the WPIAL finals in 2013 and ’15.
The program hit a wall last spring, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and finishing 5-11.
They have responded with a strong first half and are in the mix with Beaver, New Castle and Central Valley — all separated by one game, all chasing first-place Blackhawk in Section 2-4A.
“I tell our guys that looking a winner and being a winner aren’t the same thing,” Quaker Valley first-year coach Dean Owrey said. “We have to execute each dimension of the game to be competitive and prevail. Our section opponents force us to be good in each dimension, and that will make a difference when a team enters the postseason.
Leading the way in three wins last week that improved the Quakers to 7-3 overall was Christian Johnston.
Johnston went 9 for 11 with four runs, 13 RBIs and two home runs in wins over Central Valley, Ambridge and Cornell.
“He’s throwing the big part of the barrel at the baseball,” Owrey said. “He’s in good rhythm, and his mindset has shifted to attack a strike early, even when it’s not perfect.”
Owrey believes Johnston’s strength and athletic ability are a big part of his success this season as he is hitting nearly .500.
“He has the ability to hit the ball hard and to hit it deep. He’s had a couple hard-hit balls in games that hit off the pitcher and middle infielders, and then take unfortunate bounces into inconvenient outs. On the quality bat chart, those are wins but not the kind we need. He has a nice swing and keeps the barrel in the strike zone for a long time.”
Johnston not only has thrived with his bat but with his arm. The senior left-hander pitched three scoreless innings against Cornell and has a 1.56 ERA.
Christian will pitch in college, and he takes pride in his mechanics, Owrey said.
“He’s a hard thrower with effective off-speed pitches,” Owrey said. “He’s had less consistency with the strike zone than he’d like after a long basketball season that limited his preparation. He’ll be fine in the second half. He’s a gamer and loves to compete.”
Owrey also raves about Johnston’s defense.
“I believe Christian could play first base in college. He has a long, athletic body so he really shortens the throws from our left-side fielders, and he has great hand-and-eye coordination to adjust quickly. He really strengthens the right side of the infield for us.”
The second half of section play for the Quakers begins Tuesday as Quaker valley visits Obama Academy. Owrey feels his team is ready for the challenges ahead and knows Johnston will play a big part in it.
“I expect Christian to lead us. He’s been a very successful student athlete at Quaker Valley and is a great role model for our entire squad. I expect him to be among the best hitters in our section and to be recognized as a pitcher who can win the games that matter most.”
Logan Persinger, Montour
Montour split Section 3-5A games against West Allegheny and Trinity, but junior Logan Persinger reached base six times over seven at-bats in those two games. In a loss to first-place West Allegheny, Persinger was walked in all three at-bats. The next day, he went 3 for 4 with a double and an RBI, plus he was the winning pitcher in a victory at Trinity.
Noah Gillette, Highlands
Over three games in three days, Noah Gillette was 5 for 7 at the plate with three runs and five RBIs as the Golden Rams beat Indiana and Knoch in Section 1-4A action before falling to Burrell in a nonsection contest. In the key victory over Knoch, Gillette picked up his fourth win of the season on the mound by yielding no earned runs in 52/3 innings pitched to move into a tie for fourth place.
Jake Francona, New Brighton
The Francona name has been enjoying success on diamonds not only in Beaver County but throughout the country for nearly eight decades. That continues with Jake Francona, a junior trying to help New Brighton climb in Section 2-3A. Francona was a combined 2 for 7 with three runs, two RBIs and a home run in wins over Freedom and Beaver Falls. Also, he allowed no earned run in four innings pitched to pick up the win in a 3-2 victory over the Bulldogs.
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.