Noelle Johnson didn’t want to know how many strikeouts she had. Not in a game like this.
The Utah State sophomore pitcher was in the fifth inning, and one of her coaches asked her if she had ever made so many batters whiff before.
» The Aggies go 4-2 to open the season in the Red Desert Classic.
» Sophomore pitcher Noelle Johnson records a program-record 16 strikeouts over Omaha.
"I said, ‘I don’t want to know how many I have,’ " Johnson said. "I just wanted to focus on the next pitch, and on that pitch alone. But as soon as the game was over, I was like, ‘OK, you can tell me now.’"
Sixteen. A program record performance from the mound gave the Aggie softball team a 6-0 win over Omaha on Sunday, and a 4-2 record overall in the Red Desert Classic, the team’s first tournament of the year. Last season, Utah State lost 20 games before it won its first.
New leadership has swept in a new attitude in Logan. First-year coach Steve Johnson said he hasn’t done anything drastic to overhaul the roster or change the program’s style.
The talent was there for Noelle Johnson and the rest of the team — they needed to start believing it was as well.
"We came out of the weekend with four wins, but I guarantee you there’s not a player on our team who isn’t disappointed we didn’t get five or six wins," Steve Johnson said. "They’ve started expecting great things out of themselves, great things out of the program. They expect to win."
Johnson was hired last year, coming from Auburn where he spent five years as an assistant. Seasoned by SEC competition, he and his staff are familiar with what it takes to compete against some of the nation’s best each week.
He said he was struck by just how much talent was on Utah State’s roster, and how eager the players were to go in a new direction. Noelle Johnson was one of the players who interviewed him, and he remembers her telling him off the bat: "Coach, I just want to be good."
Johnson has tried to push the Aggies in that direction, combining an approachable leadership style with emphasis on one-on-one coaching. He’s been a breath of fresh air since the beginning, players said, but the program really knew they were on to something when the team started winning fall games.
In their last two games, Utah State hit four home runs. It was half of what they hit last year in a 54-game season.
"The fall just gave us a confidence boost," Noelle Johnson said. "When we started scrimmaging against each other and playing other schools, we realized we could compete."
The Aggies are happy but not satisfied with their start. Steve Johnson called the team "a work in progress."
But progress — that’s something Utah State can work with.
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