Staci Johns’ freshman year wasn’t all that bad.
During her first year at Elgin High, Johns earned A’s in four pre-AP classes. She also hung out with friends at a handful of Elgin football games, coached a coach-pitch youth softball team and earned her driver’s permit.
And she led Elgin’s softball team to its best season in eight years.
“I didn’t know what to expect my freshman year, but this was a really good start to high school,” Johns said. “I enjoyed it. I love high school.”
This spring, Johns was 20-6 with a 1.44 ERA. The pitcher of record in all but one of Elgin’s postseason games, Johns helped fuel the Lady Cats’ run to the regional-semifinal round of the Class 4A playoffs.
For her efforts, Johns has been named the American-Statesman’s All-Central Texas newcomer of the year for the 2013 softball season. She also was a second-team selection to the All-Centex team chosen by the American-Statesman’s high school sports staff.
“I don’t know if I would have been half as good if I didn’t have all that support behind me,” she said, deflecting attention to her teammates.
The coaches at East View and Georgetown, whose teams finished right behind first-place Elgin in District 17-4A, were more effusive about Johns’ abilities.
“Overall, Elgin had a great team, and she was a key cog in their defense,” said East View coach Jeff Roberts. “She was able to get the outs when she needed to with a good array of pitches.”
“(She’s) very tough, very dominating and very calm under pressure,” Georgetown coach Amy Coulter said. “That’s what makes her special as a freshman. The game could be 9-9 or 4-0, and she’s still taking charge out there.”
The daughter of an Elgin graduate, Johns has been attending Lady Cat softball games for much of her life. Former Elgin pitcher Sarah Johnson gave Johns her autograph three times.
Asked to recall one of her first Lady Cat-related memories, Johns mentioned a softball game that she attended when she was 7.
“I don’t remember the actual players, I just remember coming up here,” Johns said. “The girl just pitched so fast … I already knew that I wanted to be a pitcher and I was like, ‘How am I going to do that?’ ”
Johns’ aunt — Brandi Watson, a former catcher at Sam Houston State — taught her how to pitch when she was 6. And under the tutelage of pitching instructors Ron Holt and Andy Wolf, Johns has developed into a “movement pitcher” with an eight-pitch arsenal.
“And I’ve been working on a knuckleball,” she added.
Elgin High’s 2012 graduating class featured six players from the town’s fabled 2006 and 2007 Little League World Series teams. The Lady Cats returned only two starters this spring but went 32-8.
“They know from the beginning that mediocrity is not going to work,” Elgin coach Amanda Wolf said. “The kids this year, they took it as a challenge. They wanted to be just as good (as last year’s class) and they wanted to carry on the legacy of Elgin.”
Expectations will be high next season for Elgin, which has not reached the state semifinals since 2005. Johns and junior catcher Andrea Gonzales, the MVP of District 17-4A this past season, were two of eight Elgin underclassmen who earned all-district honors.
“I like pressure because it sets a goal,” Johns said. “I was definitely not ready for this season to end; neither were a lot of my teammates. We’re ready to come back.”
Elgin pitcher Staci Johns wasn’t the only freshman who stood out during the 2013 softball season. A look at seven rookie standouts from the Class of 2016:
- Emily Jones, East View: Infielder scored 51 runs and stole 29 bases as East View reached the playoffs in its first year of postseason eligibility.
- Hailey Mackay, Leander: First baseman produced 37 RBIs and powered Leander to the regional-championship round.
Megan McDonald, Georgetown: Speedy centerfielder anchored the Lady Eagles’ defense and was 25 of 26 on stolen-base attempts.
- Sara Sanders, Crockett: Daughter of a two-time All-Centex pitcher earned all-area honors in her varsity debut.
- Shelly Snyder, Hyde Park Baptist: Outfielder scored 50 runs and boasted a stellar batting average of .567.
- Amber Womack, Dripping Springs: Infielder hit .384 and was one of four freshmen on District 25-4A all-district squad.
- Emily Womble, Hyde Park Baptist: Earned TAPPS all-state honorable-mention honors after compiling 12 pitching wins, .576 batting average.
— Danny Davis