By BEN JOHNSON
No one knows how today’s slowpitch state tournament will play out. Any of the eight qualifying teams could take home the title, although there are some that would be a shock to the system.
But we do know this: it will be the final day of Britney Johnson’s high school softball career. There’s a strong possibility of sobbing one way or the other — tears of joy or tears of agony. It’s bound to happen.
So the realization of what Johnson has encapsulated during her time at Tahlequah likely won’t set in until Thursday, Friday or maybe even this weekend. But when she ponders back over all of it, she’ll conjure up myriad great memories.
Six state-tournament berths — three in fastpitch, three in slowpitch.
Being a part of 212 Tahlequah softball victories over six semesters. (Of course, that number could climb to 215 by day’s end.)
One state runner-up distinction (reference 2011 5A fastpitch finals). Again, the hardware hoarding could continue.
One All-State selection. And don’t be surprised if she’s a slowpitch All-Stater, too.
That’s quite an impressive résumé.
But if you know Johnson, you know that she’s not the type to parade her accomplishments right under your nose.
That leads to this.
Johnson won’t admit it but it’s true. She was the piece that was missing in Tahlequah’s puzzle. She was the key to fire up the ignition. She was the spark to get the fire started.
Without Johnson, who knows where the Tahlequah softball program would be right this second.
Sure, there have been decorated athletes to step foot on the Lady Tigers’ softball field. Erica Sampson, Ashley Boswell, Jenna Reed and Shelbi Bowin in recent memory. Before them, Lynetta Fisher, Angie Dreadfulwater, Angel Peters and countless other names.
But without Johnson, Tahlequah softball would still be a wayward soul still searching for direction.
“Before she got here, we had never been to the state tournament in fastpitch,” Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud said. “Now we’ve kind of put ourselves on the map for both, and she’s helped us get there.”
Proof from the coach. What more evidence do you need?
When Johnson moved to Tahlequah from Salina, Kan., after her freshman year, there was a lot riding on her shoulders — or more specifically, her left arm. That was the appendage that was going to get Tahlequah over the hump. All the Lady Tigers lacked was a pitcher.
To say Johnson did what she was asked to do would be an understatement. She has helped Tahlequah become a mainstay at both the fastpitch and slowpitch state tournaments now.
“I’m six for six,” Johnson said of her success rate in making it to Oklahoma City’s ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Complex.
Again, Johnson isn’t the boastful type. That’s why Cloud reinforced her importance after Tahlequah’s quarterfinal loss at the 5A fastpitch state tournament in the fall.
“I remember when we lost at state in the fall this year,” Johnson said, “Coach Cloud told me, ‘Britney, you put us on the map.’ That’s really stuck with me.”
Hard to envision an ego boost better than that.
“It makes me fell good; I think it would make anyone feel good,” Johnson said. “It makes me feel like I came in and did what was necessary. I came in and filled a need. Now I’m leaving here in a good place, leaving here with a good legacy.”
As much as praise as Cloud bestowed on Johnson, the favor has been returned.
“He’s really built the program,” Johnson said, “and I think from here on out, they’ll have an awesome group of girls and they’ll be able to go far.”
Indeed, Cloud has stabilized the program. Like Johnson, he’s six for six when it comes to making it to Oklahoma City.
“Our goal isn’t just to get there,” Cloud said. “We’d like to make it to the finals and give ourselves a chance to play for the state championship.”
With any luck, Cloud will get his first-career championship today. And Johnson will go out on top.