Last week, however, Johnson, a junior third-baseman for the Shorter Lady Hawks, got the chance to play on her biggest stage yet. And at the end of that contest, she got a taste of ultimate success on that level.
Shorter defeated Oklahoma City, 1-0 in nine innings, to capture their first-ever NAIA National Championship.
The win completed an undefeated 7-0 run at the NAIA Softball Championship in Gulf Shores, Ala. and a season that included school-record 53 wins.
Johnson made her contribution to the championship run by batting .309 while playing in all 64 of Shorter’s games this season. She hit 10 homers and had 44 RBIs while slugging .541.
Recently, the Calhoun Times caught up with Johnson to talk about Shorter’s memorable run, how playing at Calhoun prepared her for it and what the reception has been like since returning from Gulf Shores, among other things.
Here’s what she had to say:
CT: Take us back to that moment when your teammate Emily Clements got the game-winning single in the ninth inning to win the national title? What emotions and thoughts were going through your mind?
Johnson: It was really, really overwhelming. I was really excited and emotional. (The celebration) was crazy. You couldn’t even hear anything the team was yelling so loud. You couldn’t see anything because everyone was all hugged up together. It was unreal.
CT: At some point this season, did you get that feeling that this team could be special? When was that?
Johnson: I always knew we were good and had a lot of potential, but during the beginning of the season we lost some crucial games to some teams we should’ve beaten. So that kind of raised some questions. But I think one thing about our team that set us apart from a lot of other teams was that we never gave up. We would get behind in games, and everyone on the team knew we were about to come back. There was never a doubt. I think we really set the tone at the conference tournament. That really opened everyone’s eyes because we lost our first game to Mobile, and had to battle back out of the loser’s bracket. We ended up getting third after getting in the loser’s bracket, but we really came out and played really good softball because we wanted it so bad. I think that set the tone for the national trip.
CT: After Shorter has had so many talented softball teams in its program history, what does it mean to you to be a part of the only national title team?
Johnson: It means a lot. I think the main difference this year was that the group of girls that we had this year came in and molded so well together. We never really had an argument or anything. It was just a big family, and we were so close. I think that was one of the main reasons that made a difference.
CT: With only three seniors on this year’s roster and a lot of returning talent next season, is it a little bittersweet moving to NCAA Division II from NAIA or are you guys just satisfied with going out on top?
Johnson: We’re happy going out on top. I think a lot of D-II schools will underestimate us, but this past fall we played a lot of D-I schools and competed with them. So there will be a little bit of difference in the competition, but I think people are really going to underestimate the talent we have.
CT: How much did playing in big games during your high school career at Calhoun prepare you for the big stage at Shorter?
Johnson: I think it prepared me a lot especially when we got to state because the competition was a lot stiffer than region play and the region tournament. We faced better teams, and it’s also a lot of pressure. And in college games, you don’t realize how much pressure’s really on you. So that helped a lot having that experience in high school.
CT: What’s it been like the last few days after the championship win and returning to Shorter as champions?
Johnson: As a team, our phones have not stop blowing up. Our Facebook’s been blowing up. We’ve gotten so many calls and texts. And it’s set in a little bit, but on the way back we were all cracking up because one of the seniors were like, ‘Are we really national champions?’ It’s surreal at the moment. We were supported by so many people, and they’ve showed that support in a big way the last few days.
CT: What’s the biggest thing you will take a way from this championship season?
Johnson: I think it will definitely be the group of girls we had this year and knowing how much we supported each other. We’ll all miss that atmosphere of family we had.