By the age of 5, University of St. Francis shortstop Tori Johnson already was playing a mean game of catch in the back yard with her father. She quickly fell in love with the game and those special bonding moments.
“My dad always has been the one to take me out in the yard—throwing balls,” she said. “He was a great baseball player. So, I’ve followed in his footsteps. I’ve tried to make him proud.”
Shorewood’s Jeff Johnson was a record-setting home run hitter at Joliet Junior College. His daughter is a chip off the old block. She was a two-time all-state selection at Joliet Catholic Academy and first cracked the Saints’ starting lineup as a freshman a year ago.
She opened eyes by earning all-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference honors and taking charge of the USF infield in her own way—with a quiet kind of authority. She rarely raises her voice, but always gets her message across. She is all about the team and all about remaining humble, true to herself and her upbringing—even when showered with praise.
How humble? Johnson once drove in nine runs in a high school softball game—tying a state record—and was oblivious of the accomplishment until the next day.
“Oh, jeez, I don’t even know if I remember that game,” she said. “I didn’t even know I hit that many in until the newspaper came out with it and said I hit for the cycle—or something like that. I didn’t even realize it. My dad was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you had nine RBIs. You have a state record.’ I was like, ‘Oh, really?’ ”
She is tearing the cover off the ball in the early going for USF this season, too.
Johnson posted a .394 batting average with one home run and 10 RBIs on the Saints’ spring trip to Florida. She also helped USF return with a 7-5 record. And she now is focusing on the start of CCAC play.
USF is scheduled to play doubleheaders at Michigan-Dearborn and Siena Heights on Saturday and Sunday. Then, the Saints will open conference action at home on Tuesday, March 19, vs. Saint Xavier.
“Tori plays a big part in our program,” first-year USF coach Amanda Jensen said. “What is so great about Tori is that she works extremely hard, and she never complains about anything. She just goes at it.
“You give her a task—or a technique to learn—and she’s putting in the time to learn it as quickly as possible. She makes great adjustments. She adapts well to a lot of different situations. And, she just never complains.
“She’s just a really, really hard worker and somebody that is a pleasure to have on our team. And she’s also a great teammate. The work that she puts in isn’t for herself. It’s for her teammates’ benefit.”
USF's Johnson is the Complete Package
Jensen describes Johnson as a bubbly individual and fierce competitor. She has come to be known as a five-tool player, meaning she hits for average, hits for power, runs the bases well, is an excellent fielder and boasts a cannon for a throwing arm.
She can get to grounders hit in the hole between short and third and throw out the fastest runners. Those are the outs that make USF’s pitchers feel good and often spell the difference between winning and losing.
When Johnson hangs up her cleats and completes her playing career, she has plans to remain a fixture in the back yard. She recently settled on a major and plans to pursue a degree in Recreation, Sports & Tourism management. She thinks she might like to work in a park district setting.
“Being outdoors—that’s what I love,” she said. “I don’t want a desk job.”
She’ll never lack for partners in a game of catch. She has four brothers and sisters—Brett, 13, Noah, 9, Jenna and Jeremy, twins age 7. All four play ball.
No doubt, all four look up to their big sister. She has raised the bar. And she has become a fixture at USF.
“I have never felt so confident on a team as I do now, especially this year,” Johnson said. “You go through our lineup and I feel like there are no automatic outs, you know what I mean? So, it’s an awesome experience.
“I feel so confident in my teammates. And our coaching is very strong. (Jensen) knows what she’s doing. She helps to lead us down the right path.”
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