By Charles Prince
The North Jefferson News
Being young isn’t necessarily a deterrent to success. In 1963, 12-year-old Stevie Wonder had his first hit record. He went on to have 31 songs that reached the charts.
Mortimer Jordan’s Blair Johnson can relate. She had a freshman season that was a smash hit—batting over .400 and winning 25 games in the pitching circle—while helping the Lady Blue Devils to the state 5A softball crown.
“I didn’t know how much playing time I’d get this year, but I tried my hardest each time I got to pitch,” she said. “And I was lucky enough to play in the field on the days I didn’t pitch.”
Johnson’s efforts paid off with a 25-1 pitching record. A total that led Class 5A in winning percentage. She threw 160 1/3 innings, struck out 203 batters and yielded only 14 earned runs all season to finish with an ERA of less than one per game.
“I didn’t know how my freshman year would go,” she said. “I treated every game the same, like I was pitching against the best team, no matter who we were playing.”
Johnson, whose fastball has been clocked at 61 mph, throws a change up effectively, but her key pitch is her fastball, which baffles hitters because it doesn’t always come in straight down the middle.
“My fastball has really good movement on it,” she said. “I think that’s the key to it.”
The biggest win for Johnson was during the Jefferson County tournament, when she threw a complete game shutout at eventual 6A champion Hueytown. It was the only loss for Hueytown senior Lindsay Dunlap.
“That meant a lot to me, to be able to beat her,” Johnson said. “I didn’t do it alone. The defense was great behind me and our offense came through with the winning run.”
When she’s not pitching, Johnson’s a tough out at the plate. This year she hit .423 with 11 doubles, 14 triples and five home runs. She scored 62 runs and drove in 45 more, despite batting in the lead off position. She collected more walks (14) than the number of times she struck out (10).
Johnson has the speed of a lead off hitter, but she has more power than most girls who bat at the top of the lineup. Johnson’s working to make herself a dangerous hitter in any situation.
“I do have good power at times,” she said. “But I can do whatever the situation calls for at the plate. I’m a pretty good bunter and recently I’ve started working on slapping, so I can be a triple threat hitter.”
Johnson thinks her two most memorable at bats this season were collecting a double off Springville’s Savanna Hennings, who led the state in strikeouts and her lead off home run in the bottom of the first inning of the state title game against Hartselle.
After the Lady Devils brought home the state title trophy, Johnson was named by the Alabama Sports Writers Association as a member of the Class 5A first team All-State team.
“I don’t try to pay too much attention to stats and I didn’t even think about I could possibly make All-State,” she said. “I just wanted to work hard and see if good things would happen for me.”
Johnson’s hard work includes practicing at least two hours four days a week during the off season, working for one hour on both her pitching and her hitting.
“You have to have fun to keep working at it,” she said. “Otherwise, you’ll hang out with your friends or watch television instead of working on your pitching and your hitting. You’ll only be as good as the work you put into your sport.”
However, when she’s not playing or honing her softball skills, she enjoys tailgating with her family at University of Alabama football games.
Johnson’s a sports fan in general, as she tries to attend Mortimer Jordan’s basketball, volleyball and football games. In part to watch her friends play and just for the love of sports as well.
When Johnson’s friend come to see her play next season, they’ll see a sophomore aiming to help Jordan to more state titles.
“We never really talked about winning state last year,” she said. “We talked about getting there. When it finally happened, we were like,’Wow. Did we just win state?’ I couldn’t help but cry. Tears of joy and also tears for our seniors, who played their last game. Our seniors were so great last year.
“We probably won’t talk about it, but I really think we’ve got a really good chance over the next few years to win some more state titles,” she said. “I think we’ll be willing to work hard for another one.”
If Johnson continues to play the way she did in 2008, it’s likely she produce a few a more seasons that are smash hits.
By Charles Prince