We came into this season not even knowing who Attlyn Johnston was. We know who she is now, and she’s a big deal to this program —Tooele head coach Marissa Lowry
TOOELE — If Scott Johnston found dance recitals more entertaining, the Tooele softball team may not be sitting at the top of the 4A rankings.
It would have at least been a little tougher for the No. 1 ranked Buffaloes who, thanks to Mr. Johnston, have one of the best pitchers in the state — his oldest daughter, freshman Attlyn Johnston.
“We came into this season not even knowing who Attlyn Johnston was,” said Tooele head coach Marissa Lowry. “We know who she is now, and she’s a big deal to this program. She’s grown and matured.”
She’s also helped the top-ranked Buffaloes to a 17-1-1 season and a No. 1 ranking. She’s pitched 63 of the 91 innings Tooele has played this spring, and she owns a 12-1 record. She’s earned 98 strikeouts and has an ERA of 1.33.
Her coach said her strength is her desire to constantly improve.
Her teammates said it’s her commitment to give her best to her team, even if that means leaving a game.
Her dad said her strength is her natural ability.
The 14-year-old is both laidback and a perfectionist. She makes her teammates laugh with her easy-going attitude while demanding more and more of herself on the field.
But while softball may be in her genes, she may never have found her way onto a softball diamond if her parents hadn’t grown weary of dance performances.
“I was forced out of dance,” Attlyn said, laughing, when asked why she began playing softball. “I danced for seven years, and both my parents played softball and baseball, so they put me in softball about four years ago.” Her first coach asked if she’d like to pitch, but she declined.
She blames “not knowing anything about the game” for that impulsive decision, which she rectified the next season. Her dad began coaching her that third year, and she quickly began developing into a skilled, consistent pitcher.
“I figured she’d be really good at it,” Scott Johnston said of his reaction to his daughter’s desire to pitch at age 11. “She turned into a natural.”
He said her secret weapon is practice.
“She’s dedicated on her own, and she wants it badly,” he said, admitting that he does “push her” now and then. “She knows nothing is going to get given to her.”
Her coach said her desire to improve has allowed her to flourish in her first high school season.
“She never settles for anything,” said Lowry. “She is always willing to get better. She’s the first one at practice, the last one to leave. She’s a perfectionist.”
That can be a double-edged sword.
While it’s allowed her to rapidly improve her skills, her teammates said there are times when she’s harder on herself than anyone else.
“Attlyn is our go-to,” said Payton Hammond, who plays shortstop and pitches for Tooele. “She’s the best. Her dedication (is her strength), for sure. She knows that if she’s not feeling it, well, like during this game (against Bear River). She went and took our JV catcher and worked on her spins to make sure she could finish the rest of the innings the best she could. When she’s off, she makes sure she gets it back.”
In those times when she struggles, Attlyn said it’s her dad who helps her find that balance between the hunger she feels to improve and any kind of defeatist mentality.
“I think it is a good thing,” she said of her expectations of herself. “I know when I’m not doing good, and I know what I need to do to be better. Sometimes it gets to me, and when it does, I take a breath and think about what I need to fix. Then I just go and try to figure it out. My dad had helped me a lot. ...he knows the way I throw. He knows the way I think.”
Pitching is so technical, and it is a delicate balance of physical abilities and movements and the mental toughness to solve the puzzle that each opponent, each batter brings to a contest.
“She gets better every day,” Scott Johnston said. “She’s just like any other pitcher, on and off, but there is a lot to it. There are hours and hours of moving something one inch this way or holding your body just a little bit that way. We try to do as much as we can in practice, so she doesn’t have to think as much in a game. But sometimes you do have to think about it because if you’re off, you’ve got to figure it out.”
Attlyn Johnston said that’s exactly what she loves. Well, that and the ability to contribute something significant to her teammates' efforts.
“It is an amazing feeling, honestly,” she said of playing softball. “You know you worked hard for something, and it shows off in the best possible ways. Your team can help pick you up, just like you can pick them up, and all of it helps you just feel happy.”