Knowing that Fox had won the Suburban Conference Green pool in its first year of existence, Richardson beat the drum for Joey Johnson to be selected as the league’s top player. That wish turned to reality recently as Johnson was selected for that honor by the other coaches in the league.
Affton, Clayton, Hazelwood Central, Mehville, Northwest and Seckman make up the Green pool with Fox, and coaches cannot vote for their own players.
A third baseman, Johnson did everything he could to earn that distinction. He hit .492 and collected 30 hits in 61 at-bats, with three home runs and 28 RBIs.
In league competition, albeit a small sample size because Fox (13-7) only played a handful of those games, Johnson batted .455 (5-for-11). And, as Richardson proudly noted, the recent graduate paced the conference in batting average, homers, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
“I think you have to start with the consistency he had all season, putting up the numbers that he did,” Richardson said. “I don’t know if I’ve had a more complete player in my time at Fox. He even tries to tell me he’s fast, because he stole five bases, but that’s not true. Joey was able to get the barrel (of the bat) where it needed to be more consistently than most guys I’ve coached.”
Sitting in the visiting dugout recently at Fox, wearing his normal sheepish grin, Johnson credited not only his head coach, but also assistant Kenny Brengle, for his success.
“Every time I step on the field, I try to be the best player out there,” Johnson said, adding that there was one thing that did leave him chagrined. “I wasn’t thinking that far ahead (about getting the honor), but my goal all year was to hit .500, and I came one good at-bat shy of accomplishing that. It takes a lot of work to be the best out there, but actions speak louder.
“Coach Richardson said, ‘I want to congratulate you,’ and I really didn’t know what else to say. But he and Coach Brengle always preach ‘middle-oppo’ (meaning hit the ball either up the middle, or to the opposite field). And then, if they come inside on you, pull it. I finally hit home runs this year, because I had never had any in my varsity career. And I honestly believe those came because of that ‘middle-oppo’ approach.”
Richardson said Johnson’s pick as the top player in his pool went beyond statistics.
“If we had a guy on second base and needed that run driven in, he got the job done,” he said. “I think it was a great way to close out a fantastic high school career. We always tell the kids, ‘Be the best player you can be,’ and I think Joey accomplished that. He also played a solid third base for us and supplied leadership. Hopefully that bodes well for his future in college, and he has the same kind of success. He’s a competitor, a closer and a winner.”
Johnson, who also played football, was a four-time Class 4 state qualifier and two-time state medalist in wrestling. Not only will he be found on the diamond for Fontbonne University, he’s also going to be a big part of the school’s inaugural wrestling program.
And while he’ll be reunited in college with his former grappling coach at Fox, Amond Prater, Johnson said he’s fairly certain that Ryan Good, the Griffins’ head baseball coach, also can make use of his talents.
“When I was talking with Coach Good, he said he might have a spot for me,” Johnson said, perhaps kidding a bit. “But I think (college) is going to be the same as high school; get done with class and go straight to practice. I think I’ll be able to get the routine.”
In addition to Johnson’s top honor, other Warriors garnered postseason recognition. Sean Cleary, Cole Elwood, R.J. Macay and Bryce Wear were named to the first-team all-conference unit. Cade Thomas was a second-team selection, while Bob Neibert and Caden Hastings received honorable mentions. Johnson, Cleary, Elwood and Wear were named to the all-district team.