Franklin Regional graduate Johnson spurring Geneva softball team
Geneva College softball coach Van Zanic sees many prospective recruits in visits to Western Pennsylvania, but Franklin Regional's Samantha Johnson immediately caught his eye last year.
“In a lot of games last year, she kind of willed her team to win,” Zanic said. “She doesn't like losing, and that's very similar to my attitude — you try to do whatever you can to win a game. She wants to win games, and she takes it personally when she doesn't.”
Now a freshman at Geneva, Johnson is winning games in bunches for the Golden Tornadoes. She leads the team with a 9-6 record and 2.63 earned-run average in 19 games and was named the Presidents' Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week earlier this month.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first, but the girls really helped me out to get through the nerves and just go out there and do my job as a pitcher,” Johnson said.
Johnson faced the difficult task this season of replacing Plum graduate Julie DiLonardo as staff ace. DiLonardo went 26-18 with a 1.69 ERA, leading Geneva to the PAC championship and receiving PAC Player of the Year honors. DiLonardo is the Golden Tornadoes' all-time leader in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
Add that to her freshman status, and Johnson had a lot on her plate coming into the season. But she said she wasn't intimidated.
“Going out on the field and playing some of these PAC teams, I have seen a ton of girls that I played against before,” she said. “That kind of comforted me a little bit, to know that I wasn't the only one.
“Coming and knowing girls I've played with since I was younger are doing the same thing I am (has helped).”
Geneva began the season in Florida, where the Golden Tornadoes dropped eight of their first 12 games. Johnson started the year 0-4.
Since the team returned to Pennsylvania, however, the fortunes of both Geneva and Johnson have changed. The Golden Tornadoes (13-11, 7-1 PAC) are 7-3 since coming north, and Johnson is 6-1 in that span.
Geneva stands in second place in the conference, one game behind Westminster College.
“(The success) kind of goes hand-in-hand,” Zanic said. “Chances are when you're pitching well, you're going to win some games. We have two or three other freshmen in the starting lineup that we're relying on offensively, and it's kind of a similar situation to Sam — they got off to a slow start, just kind of getting their feet wet to the college game.
“A little success goes a long way.”
In the pitching circle, Johnson mixes five pitches to retire hitters. Zanic said Johnson tends to pitch to contact, and some poor defense also cost her early in the season.
The freshman also is excelling at the plate, an area she worked to improve upon during her time at Franklin Regional. Johnson is batting .296 with 15 runs batted in for Geneva.
“I think a lot of people overthink hitting,” Johnson said. “You just have to pick your pitch and drive the ball.”
Johnson will use that confidence at the plate and in the pitching circle as she attempts to lead the Golden Tornadoes to their second straight conference championship.
She said she ended up committing to play for Geneva because of the program success, and she hopes to add to it later this season.
“She's fearless — she really is,” Zanic said. “She has an attitude of, ‘I'm better than the person I'm facing.' It's bordering on a cockiness, but I like that in a pitcher.
“You have to have that attitude in terms of, ‘I'm not intimidated by anyone.'”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.