Softball: Johnson just the sort of leader Hawks need
Maine South senior Nicole Johnson (center) catches a pop up fly for the out next to teammates senior Michelle Roberts (left) and senior Maddy Vogg during a game against St. Viator at Maine South in Park Ridge on Monday, April 9, 2012. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 12:12PM
High school programs are built on the backs of players like Maine South’s Nicole Johnson.
The senior was pulled up to the varsity softball team as a sophomore for the 2010 postseason by coach Emma Pasier. She spent the last two seasons as the Hawks’ starting third baseman, a stint that ended with Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Loyola in a Class 4A regional title game.
Johnson wasn’t a team captain this year, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t lead.
“Nicole was an incredible leader this year. She wasn’t a captain with a ‘C’ on her chest but she was a captain, hands down,” Pasier said. “She was there for everybody this year. She’s a phenomenal kid.”
Johnson quickly shifted the credit around.
“Everybody on this team leads in their own way,” Johnson said. “All the seniors love the younger girls and we tried to set the best example for them. That’s the way it is in this program. So it just kind of came naturally.”
Johnson departs the program as an example of the selflessness that her coach covets, having batted third, eighth, or wherever Pasier has needed her.
“She just wants to be in the lineup,” Pasier said. “And she has taken balls off the shins and gone in the training room, and then come back in. She’s just a tough kid.”
Johnson was understandably sad to see her high school career end Saturday but she’ll leave Pasier’s program with nothing but fond memories.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been on and we all help each other so much,” Johnson said. “We’re truly like a family; we have moments when we fight and yell at each other, but ultimately it’s just to make everybody better.
“The games were great but I’ll remember the practices. That’s when we really bonded with each other. It was fun. We were all learning together and making mistakes together, but it was all fun.”
Johnson and the Hawks (14-21) were ousted by Loyola thanks to a stellar day of defense by the Ramblers (22-7) behind a shutout pitching performance from Jamie Kiefer.
Johnson laced a ball in the left-field gap in the third inning only to see Loyola left fielder Hannah Miller race across the outfield to make the catch of the day. The play was typical of the Ramblers’ effort in shutting down the Maine South offense.
“They made a couple of really nice plays and (Kiefer) is good. We’re good hitters and they took away a couple of really solid hits from us today,” Pasier said.
Two of Loyola’s three runs scored off of Maine South pitcher Jenna Christie came in the first inning, after an hour’s lightning delay to start the game.
“The last time we lost to Loyola in the postseason (in 2009) they went on to win the state title,” Pasier said. “So good luck to them again.