116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
T.J. Johnson embraces new starting role for Coe baseball
Kohawks split conference doubleheader with University of Dubuque
CEDAR RAPIDS – T.J. Johnson serves as a jack of all trades at Coe.
He has proven his versatility, playing shortstop, serving as a closer on the mound and providing a consistent presence in the batting lineup from Day 1 with the Kohawks’ baseball program.
This season, he assumed a different pitching role, switching to starter duty, in addition to his infield work and hitting third.
“I started in high school,” said Johnson, a former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep. “I knew I was able to do it. It was more of getting my arm conditioned to be able to handle that volume. It was something I wanted to do because I think I’d be able to help the team out.”
Johnson leads Coe in wins and produced another quality start in an American Rivers Conference doubleheader split with University of Dubuque Friday at Daniels Park’s Bill Quinby Field. The Spartans won the opener, 2-1, and Coe rebounded with a 9-2 victory in Game 2.
Johnson went the distance, suffering his first loss this season despite allowing just four hits without an earned run.
“Anytime you get into the conference you know you’re going to have a battle,” Coe Coach Steve Cook said. “We never really got into a grove offensively (in Game 1).
“Overall, I thought we played well today. We have to try to score a few more runs to win that first one.”
Due to some injuries and players unable to return from last year’s shortened season, the Kohawks needed to bolster their rotation. Cook had Johnson in mind when Johnson reached out and offered to make the move. Johnson is 7-1 with a 2.38 earned-run average.
“It felt like we had good quality depth but we didn’t necessarily have a lot of starting pitching back, so we made the decision to move T.J. to starter,” Cook said. “He’s become our No. 1 starter on the weekends. He’s done an awesome job.”
Cook praised Johnson for his team-first attitude. He said it would have been easy to stay in his comfort zone. Johnson was willing to shoulder a bigger load.
“Not every guy would be raising their hand to do that,” Cook said. “He’s a great leader for us. He’s a great hard-nosed competitor day-in and day-out.”
“He’s all business on the baseball field. He enjoys playing but when it comes to his approach, he works and focuses. We’ve been really fortunate to have him in the role that we have.”
The transition has been easier than expected. Johnson said playing shortstop allows him to get lots of hard throwing in with live sessions. He has had to make a mental adjustment and he has had to manage his pitch count to go deeper in games.
“When you’re a reliever, you can come out and chuck as hard as you can for an inning or whatnot,” Johnson said. “Being a starter, you have to pace yourself in a way. You have to reserve to try and go seven innings besides just one or two.”
Johnson is second in batting with a .394 average, tallying two hits, an RBI and run in the nightcap. He also has a team-high nine doubles, 28 RBIs and 63 total bases. Johnson likes contributing in as many ways possible.
“It’s something I embrace,” Johnson said. “I know that I’m one of the guys that can do things for the team and be a leader. We have a lot of guys that are the same way. It’s definitely something I look forward to every single day, helping the team out any way I can.”
Coe scored three runs in the fourth and seventh to pull away from Dubuque in Game 2. Riley Legrand had three hits and Jack Allison and T.J. Deardoff, who hit a solo home run, added two hits apiece for Coe (23-4, 19-3).
Shaun Logan threw a complete game for Dubuque (11-14, 9-9) in the first game.