Home News Shae Johnson, Mundelein win regional title

Shae Johnson, Mundelein win regional title

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Mundelein’s Shae Johnson enjoyed her role in this regional championship game a lot more.

A year ago, Johnson didn’t start in the Mustangs’ loss to Libertyville.

“A week before the playoffs last season, I ended up getting hurt,” she said. “That motivated me a lot.”

Johnson certainly looked motivated during the Class 4A Mundelein Regional championship game against Prospect on Friday. The sophomore pitcher struck out 11, scattered four hits and walked just two over seven shutout innings to lead the top-seeded Mustangs to a 5-0 victory over the ninth-seeded Knights.

North Suburban Conference champion Mundelein (33-1), which won its first regional title since 2006, will play either fourth-seeded Stevenson or fifth-seeded Palatine in the Warren Sectional semifinals on Tuesday.

Mundelein coach Heather Ryan said Johnson’s transformation from a quality pitcher with potential to the ace of the staff is a driving force behind the team’s remarkable success.

“Shae worked really hard in the offseason,” Ryan said. “She’s such a competitor and wants the ball in her hands all the time. We trust her. Without her, we don’t go. She really relies on her teammates and trusts her defense, which gives her the confidence and comfort to be able to pitch loose and try all of her pitches.

“I’m really proud of these girls. It’s been a long drought for our program in having any sort of championship success. This is a steppingstone for us.”

Johnson (22-1), the conference pitcher of the year, pitched a complete game to add to her impressive season totals. She has a 1.69 ERA with 278 strikeouts and just 38 walks in 149 innings.

Johnson also is a key hitter for the Mustangs, who scored four runs in the first inning to take control. She went 2-for-3, while sophomore center fielder Kieley Tomas, who had a diving catch in the sixth inning, went 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Junior first baseman Claire Connelly had two hits and two RBIs.

“She does it on both sides of the ball,” Ryan said of Johnson. “She can hit the ball and also can shut teams down. She’s really the key to a lot of our success. I’m so proud of how she performed on such a big stage today.”

Johnson was particularly impressive late in the game. She struck out the side in the fourth, worked her way out of a jam with two runners on base in the top of the fifth and retired the side in order in the seventh.

“This is my first real playoff experience, so I wanted to do well,” she said. “My curve was working really well, just clipping the outside corner really nicely.”

Johnson said she benefited from a switch to a stronger travel team last summer.

“Playing against better competition gave me some more confidence that I can compete against these good teams,” she said. “I had confidence in myself knowing I had been pitching in big games.”

Johnson said she also increased her workouts to prepare for a busy season leading a team loaded with talent and expectations.

“I knew I would have a lot of the workload in throwing a lot this season,” she said. “My mental game is a lot stronger, plus I’ve been taking my workouts a lot more seriously. After games or practices, I’m always in the gym.

“But also my riseball has been really successful for me this year and I think has really elevated my game a lot.”

Tomas, who lifted her batting average to .490, said Johnson gained confidence from Mundelein’s 7-6 loss to 3A power Antioch on May 16.

“Shae brings this big grit to our team,” Tomas said. “I feel the Antioch game was a good loss for us. We learned we can compete with the best teams. Shae also learned as a pitcher that she can compete with these big teams and we can go far in the playoffs.”

Connelly, who tied the program’s career record with 34 home runs and set a single-season program record with 69 RBIs this season, said Johnson’s progress has been essential to the Mustangs’ success.

“From her freshman year to this year, she really worked hard,” Connelly said. “She’s always constantly doing something to get better, going to the gym or to her pitching lessons.”

Bobby Narang is a freelance reporter.



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