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NH's Johnson North-South MVP

July 23, 2008
For North Harrison's Cody Johnson, just being named to the North-South All-Star baseball team was more than he had hoped for from his high school baseball career.

"I thought it was awesome," Johnson said. "Usually, the best in Indiana get nominated to North-South. I always pictured myself as good, decent, but not a North-South All-Star player. I thought it was an awesome honor."

"I felt lucky because there were two kids on my team got drafted and they were playing with me," he said. "We saw one throwing 96 (miles per hour). That's incredible as an 18-year-old. He was 6 (foot), 7 (inches tall). Once again, I felt lucky to play for a team like this who had great players on it on both sides."

Johnson would have been satisfied to have played two innings in one of the three games. What happened was, the Cougar grad played six innings, allowed just three hits, struck out four, walked only one and kept the North team scoreless in those six innings to earn Most Valuable Player for the three-game series.

"I can't thank enough whoever got me into it," Johnson said. "It's a coaches' vote, so eight coaches vote, and I'm just lucky to get voted in."

Johnson got his first call to the mound in the fourth inning of the second game of the series.

"I knew I was going to get three innings, so I knew they'd stick with me for at least three innings," the North Harrison grad said. "I was so nervous because I had seen some of the earlier pitchers pitch, and I was like, 'Wow! These are the best pitchers around. They're getting hit and the kid before me gave up four runs.' I was like, 'Wow, I could give up 10 runs in three innings.' "

His first pitch was a fast ball.

"Probably my first 10 pitches were fast balls," he said. "That's because I was too afraid to throw anything else."

Johnson gave credit to his three catchers, Bo Benham of Crawford County, Michael Tucker of Zionsville and Joe Meggs of Terre Haute for keeping him comfortable on the mound.

"It was almost like they knew the batters," he said. "They would call pitches and I would shake them off once in a while, but really they were right on cue with me. … They knew what I had, and they knew what I wanted to throw. They would set up inside or out, and it was great because I wouldn't have to shake them off four times or anything like that."

Johnson and Benham were already familiar with each other.

"We played summer ball together," Johnson said. "It helped because there was a friend behind the plate. He didn't catch me first, but he ended up catching me second."

Then, came the first big hit against Johnson.

"I got through the first couple of batters and I was like, 'Maybe I am a pretty good pitcher,' " Johnson said. "The first guy that hit it hit like a 399-foot bomb. The guy caught it on the warning track. Once the first guy got a hit, I was a little nervous only because, 'Am I going to lose it? Am I not?' Once I got that next out, after that I was confident again."

North Harrison coach Greg Oppel said one thing going for Johnson was his control, something with which the other pitchers were having problems.

"They had kids throwing 90-plus (mph)," Oppel said. "They were leaving the ball up, throwing to the back stop, throwing in the dirt. They were having trouble with their control. He comes in and he's hitting the inside corner, busting them on the hands. He didn't throw it away. They can't hit what they can't see.

"His control was phenomenal. It's such a pleasure to see one of your players and do things the right way. Avon's coach said, 'He's not a thrower, he's a pitcher.' It's great satisfaction as a coach."

The North team took game one 7-4. The South team rebounded in a big way in game two with a 16-8 win, where Johnson pitched innings four, five and six. On Sunday of the series, a wooden bat game, the South team was up 1-0 going into the seventh when Johnson got the call to take the mound again.

"I had never been more nervous except for the sectional final," he said. "I was more nervous than that. I went into it and my arm was hurting. I was tired from the whole weekend. My whole team was relying on me. If we lose, that means the North wins (the series). Our coaches talked all week how we wanted to win two games.

"I got out of the seventh inning, and that was the hardest inning. The eighth got easier. My arm got loosened up. Then, that ninth inning came and there was one out with a guy on first. The ninth inning, all the coaches told the players to stand up and they were all cheering for me. It was awesome. It was like they had been my teammates for 10 years. I really enjoyed that because I felt like my teammates were behind me. It really gave me more confidence to get through the ninth."

The South team gained two more runs for a 3-0 lead, but the North got runners on in the bottom of the ninth. Johnson's teammates gave him some backup with some good defense to end the game.

"We got the last out, it was a double play actually," Johnson said. "It was like one-two, gone. I was like, 'I'm done.' I couldn't actually believe I'd got through it without giving up a run or something. I was like, 'That was actually kind of easy.' "

"Whenever I came out, there was a big cheer and the South got it up and I was relieved," Johnson said.

"Thirty seconds later they called out MVP and I was all nervous again. … I don't know how to describe it. I only half expected it because I had known ahead of time that I had gone six shutout innings.

"The Avon coach said, 'You know, Cody, no one's ever gone six shutout innings.' I was like, 'Really.' He said, 'That's just food for thought.' Then, I went out in the ninth I was really nervous.

"I thought there might be a chance for MVP and that would be an awesome accomplishment. I kind of had a little more drive after him saying that."

"It's going to be a great asset to this program to be able to say we had a kid who went through this program and, worked like he did, and look what's at the end of the rainbow," Oppel said. "This is a reflection of this program, the work ethic."

"It's like a B-12 shot," he said. "You come back and you just want to work even harder. You want to be able to relate and get this to the kids."

"He came so far in the one season I was here as far as becoming that pitcher he's been described as," John Adkins assistant coach said. "It's great to see great names in the sport of baseball from the state of Indiana, and those are the same things we see in him. He's never going to be a guy that comes out and throws 95, but as long as he keeps working hard there's going to be a spot for him in this game. He does things right and he works hard and he strives to be better every day."

Asked what he would tell youngsters playing the game, Johnson's first answer was to throw with their dads as much as possible.

"Just to work hard really," Johnson said. "The harder you work, the better you're going to become. In the same sense you have to work hard, but with a purpose. You can do whatever you want, but if you get a whole team working hard, your whole team is going to be getting better or get more things done. Hard work does pay off."

The Cougar grad next will begin his college career at Oakland City University. Johnson said he knows he can't rest on his laurels from this honor.

"I have to start all over again," he said. "If I was finishing my first year of college, I might think (more confidence) or I might just think I'm good in Indiana. Oakland is in Indiana and I've seen them play. I definitely fit in there. There's no dominant players from what I've seen, but I've got to start from scratch again. I've got a whole new set of teammates, a new coach. I can't wait, but then again, I'd love to stay in high school for one more year."

And how did Johnson begin getting ready for his college career? He went pitching with his dad, Bill Johnson.

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