Softball All-American wrecking UK's record book

mmaloney@herald-leader.comJune 5, 2009 

  • Johnson's statistics

    Height: 5-8 Class: Jr. Bats/throws: Right Position: Shortstop

    High School: Sabino (Tucson, Ariz.)

    Yr. G Avg. AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI OBP SB

    2007 51 .340 150 32 51 11 1 7 36 .415 5-6

    2008 54 .401 157 28 63 20 2 6 40 .472 17-19

    2009 57 .433 187 53 81 14 4 9 34 .498 24-29

    Totals 162 .395 494 113 195 45 7 22 110 .464 46-54

While browsing the Internet last week, Molly Johnson searched for softball news.

When she came across the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's All-America selections, she double-clicked.

"Kind of surprised to see my name there," said Johnson, a junior shortstop and team captain at the University of Kentucky. "But it was a nice surprise."

Johnson, named to the second team, is UK's first All-American in softball.

She is about to become the first Wildcat to participate in a USA Softball Women's National Team selection camp, next Monday through Friday at Chula Vista, Calif.

That she learned of her All-America status via the Internet seems only natural.

Her nickname is Google.

"If we're at practice and someone has a random question, they'll be like, 'Molly, do you know this?'" said Johnson, an exercise science major. "And most of the time, somehow, I know it. So last year (catcher) Megan Yocke came up with the nickname, and it just kind of stuck. ... I guess I'm sort of a dork."

Or sort of a "six-tool" player: Hits for average and for power, a slick fielder with a strong arm, and a blazing base runner blessed with quick recall of random facts.

Rachel Lawson, who just completed her second season as coach of the Wildcats, is hard pressed when asked to identify Johnson's best skill.

"If not the most multi-dimensional athlete in college athletics, she's got to be right up there with the best," Lawson said. "She's great at everything."

Also, Lawson said, Johnson is mature and works hard.

If Johnson were a baseball guy instead of a softball woman, Lawson said, she'd be worth millions of dollars.

Actually, Johnson grew up playing baseball with boys in Arizona. Just like older brothers Chris and Daniel, Molly was coached by her dad, Don. At 10, she was an all-star.

Mostly, she played catcher. She also pitched. Once, when she got hit in the head, she pleaded to stay in the game. So her dad moved her to first.

About the time she was named an all-star, a softball-playing cousin said her league was seeking young players.

"I went to the tryout. I wasn't really thinking much about it. I would go, but it probably wasn't going to happen," Johnson said. "Then I decided to stay, and the first thing I said was 'I'm not going to cheer,' because it was during the time (players) did all those little cheers. ... I caved in to that real fast, too."

She went on to become a four-year starter at Tucson's Sabino High School. She earned All-State honors, team MVP awards and, as a junior, led Sabino to the Class 4A state title.

By the time she arrived at UK, she had played every position on the field.

Molly, with parents Don and Teri, moved to Lexington upon her enrollment at UK. She has started all 164 games since her arrival.

In 2007, playing mostly at third base, Johnson landed on the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team.

UK, 20-31 overall and 4-24 in the SEC in 2007, went 17-37, 3-25 in Lawson's debut.

Johnson was named second-team All-SEC. She led the Wildcats in batting average, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, total bases, stolen bases and assists. Her eighth-inning, two-run homer gave UK a 2-0 win over No. 6 Tennessee.

This year, Johnson set UK records for runs (53), hits (81) and on-base percentage (.498).

On UK's career lists, Johnson ranks: first in batting (.395) and slugging (.648); second in doubles (45), homers (22) and runs (113); fourth in total bases (320); fifth in RBI (110), stolen bases (46) and defensive assists (379); and sixth in triples (7) and hits (195). And she has another season left.

So which aspect of the game is most fun?

"I'm kind of a defensive junky," Johnson said. "But lately I'm becoming a bigger fan of offense. I like to steal bases, too. So just as long as I'm active, I like that best."

In addition to All-America honors, she was first team All-SEC, All-SEC Tournament, All-Southeast Region and the league and national player of the week in April.

UK (34-23, 13-14) qualified for the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2001 and earned its first NCAA bid.

The first post-season win in Cats history came when Johnson belted a two-run homer in the fifth inning for a 2-0 SEC tourney win over seventh-ranked Georgia.

UK went on to reach the NCAA regional finals, beating Canisius and Brigham Young.

"Hopefully, next year will be even better," Johnson said. "Maybe even super regionals."

Of immediate focus, though, is next week's tryout camp. Johnson is among 10 invitees who will join 27 veterans at the tryout.

Team USA's summer schedule includes the Canada Cup (July 3-12 at Surrey, British Columbia), World Cup (July 16-20 at Oklahoma City), Japan Cup (July 28-Aug. 3 at Yokohama) and Pan American qualifier (Aug. 4-11 at Gudalajara, Mexico).

"I'm just going to go and have fun," Johnson said. "I'm a little nervous now, but I think once I get out there, you just have to meet people. ... It should be fun. A lot of great talent out there."

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