By Harrison Kelly
The Pride were up by the score of 5-0 in the bottom of the 7th and final inning when Brian Johnson, a sophomore pitcher who only pitched 25 innings last year, dug into the bright orange clay mound at the Lake Myrtle Baseball Park Complex in Auburndale, Florida. With only one out to go and not a single batter from opponent Colby-Sawyer reaching base, both squads knew what was on the line.
The southpaw delivered the final pitch from the windup. Chris Hood of Colby-Sawyer took a hack and served up a routine fly ball into the sun-soaked clear sky. Left fielder Colin King found his way under the ball, and raised his glove until the final out became official. Springfield’s bench erupted in a unison, “LET’S GO!” as Johnson embraced in a hug with his backstop Peter Marsicano. The no-hitter was complete, and more importantly, Johnson had put himself on the Division III baseball radar.
Johnson said he was feeling great from the first pitch.
“I felt great, better than I have in a while,” said Johnson. “My arm was loose, I was spotting all of my pitches, and the ball was flying out of my hand.”
The elation of throwing a no-hitter is something a pitcher craves his/her entire career, usually second before being on the mound clinching a championship. “Once the final out was made, it was surreal, and a moment that I’ll never forget,” Johnson explained. “As far as my teammates, they loved it. They knew they couldn’t talk about it with me throughout the game. It was great finally celebrating it with them on the mound after the game.”
It has been 16 years since the last no-hitter was thrown for Springfield College. The last person to do so was Kevin Cahill, a dual-sport athlete who was inducted into the Springfield College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013. Cahill leaves big shoes to fill for Johnson, but he seems up for the task.
The no-hitter has started some chatter about where Johnson would be in the rotation once the regular season started up. With Johnson getting the start against Westfield State, fans should expect to see him often in big games. “Being at the top of the rotation is a privilege and an honor. It puts more pressure on me, but I like facing the challenge,” said Johnson.
Johnson also shared his thoughts on this year’s young team. “We have definitely grown a lot from last year considering we had games last year where all nine guys were playing their first year of varsity collegiate baseball,” said Johnson. “Most of us now have a year under our belt and we know what the grind of the season entails. No more excuses of being too young. It now comes down to winning ball games.”
There’s plenty of future growth and potential for Johnson. A top of the rotation lefty is so valuable to a successful baseball team. Johnson has already matched his strikeout total from last year at 16, while throwing 10 less innings. With a fastball that gets up into the mid-80’s and a biting curve, steady improvement should continue throughout the year.
Johnson is limited with a pitch count for now, which only let him pitch five innings in a loss to Westfield State on Monday. His solid five innings kept the Pride in the game, and if he stays consistent, Coach Mark Simeone may be forced to take the leash off and let Johnson pitch his way to a victory.