It was no secret coming into this season Kyle Johnson would be the ace of the Douglas High School baseball team’s pitching staff. And the fourth-year varsity veteran lived up to that advance billing this spring with a workhorse-like performance that led to all-region and all-state recognition.
The senior right-hander could have been described as workhorse and Dr. K, since he led all Northern Division I pitchers in strikeouts and innings pitched to go with his 7-5 record and two saves. Three of those losses were decided by a single run.
Northern Division I coaches in May voted Johnson to the all-region first-team, and earlier this month he was honored as a second-team pitcher on the Las Vegas Review-Journal All-State Team.
“He’s thrown some great games the last two years, obviously, and he’s really been battling for us the last four years,” Douglas coach Bruce Jacobsen said. “He pitched on three days rest a handful of times and even pitched in both ends of a double header as a starter and in relief. That’s just a testament to him wanting the ball in big situations.”
Johnson is now looking forward to moving forward as an invited walk-on player at Western Nevada College in Carson City. This is a big step, too, considering the Wildcats are coming off a season in which they won a region championship, had five players (and former players) selected in the Major League draft and had four sophomores sign with Division I college programs.
“This is a very good opportunity,” Johnson said. “WNC is one of the best community college programs in the West, so this will give me a chance to see where my skill set is. Skill-wise, I’m sure I will be pushed to my potential. Getting into the weight and conditioning program there, I think that will help me maximize all my strengths.
“I had some other opportunities, everything just fit with WNC. In addition to the fantastic baseball program, they had the classes I wanted to take and I’m still going to be close to home.”
Meanwhile, WNC coach D.J. Whittemore spoke highly of the Douglas prospect.
“Kyle is a workhorse,” Whittemore said. “He has command of a good fastball and a slider that’s close to ready. Coming out of the Douglas High School program, we know Kyle is tough and understands the team concept. We think he is one of the top two pitchers in the North and are proud to have him.”
Johnson logged 93 strikeouts and a 3.84 earned run average in 68 innings. He pitched seven complete games and had seven games with eight strikeouts or more. He opened the season with back-to-back shutout victories against Truckee and McQueen, with a season-high 13 strikeouts in that second outing.
One statistic worth noting is Johnson’s walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of 1.235. He allowed 67 hits and 17 walks in his 68 innings.
“Hopefully, he can go up there and find a spot (at WNC),” Jacobsen said. “With his ability to throw four pitches for strikes — fastball, changeup, curve and slider — I think he can get up to speed.”
Johnson regularly hits 85-86 mph on the radar gun — he said he recently hit 89 for the Reno Muckdogs Baseball Club 19-and-under team. He is pitching this weekend at the Peninsula Baseball Classic in the Bay Area and then at the Muckdogs Invitational on June 26-29 in Reno. Fellow Douglas graduates Dillon Lopez (who is headed to Yuba College), Cole Peck (Colorado Northwestern Community College, a Scenic West Athletic Conference member with Western Nevada) and Dalton Grisell (Simpson University) also play for the Muckdogs.
Johnson was still in middle school when he met and began working out under the tutelage of longtime Douglas pitching coach Rick Kester — which led to Johnson’s promotion to varsity as a freshman.
“I actually started talking to him at the end of my eighth grade year and took lessons from him,” Johnson recalled. “The success I’ve had, he is a big part of that. He taught me a lot about mechanics and the mental aspect of pitching … he taught me to go straight at hitters.”
Receiving first-team recognition on the all-region list was noteworthy, too, because of the number of quality pitchers in the North this season.
“There was definitely a lot of talent all around the state,” he said. “It helped make me a better pitcher to go head-to-head with so many great guys.”