His importance to the Mavericks, however, isn’t limited to his work behind the plate. He’s equally adept standing next to it with a bat in his hands. Johnson has been his team’s best, most consistent hitter all year with a .363 batting average, 21 doubles, three triples and a .592 slugging percentage.
“I was a pitcher, and if you look at Nolan, you wouldn’t think he’d be very good,” Mavericks coach Matt Magers said. “He’s got the old Little League batting stance, straight up-and-down. But he’s the type of hitter that’s going to find a way to get on base.
“I give a lot of credit to our assistant coaches Adam Christ and Tink Larson for the job they’ve done developing him hitting-wise and catching-wise. For me, if Nolan does a great job calling the game and controlling the game, it’s just a feather in our hat if he’s able to hit. And he has ever since Day 1 when he came in.”
Batting mostly in the cleanup spot, Johnson has been one of the few offensive constants in an MSU lineup that sometimes finds it difficult to score runs.
The right-handed hitting Bloomington native was at his best at last week’s NCAA Central Regional, earning tournament MVP honors by going 8 for 18 with two doubles, three runs scored and an RBI.
Johnson said he hopes the 18-hit outburst, that included an 11-run seventh-inning rally and a 17-1 win over St. Cloud State in the region finals, is a sign of things to come for MSU (39-8).
“That’s huge momentum,” Johnson said. “I could finally breathe the last couple innings of the game. We already had our pitching ready to go and we finally started to get some timely hitting, so everything looks like it’s falling together.”