• Former Bronco shines in senior season

  • Not many players get to end their careers the way Natalie Johnson closed hers.

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  • Not many players get to end their careers the way Natalie Johnson closed hers.
    Johnson, a Rockhurst University senior and 2009 Lee’s Summit North High School graduate, bashed a no-doubt two-run home run in the final inning of her last college game, an 11-6 loss to the University of Missouri-St. Louis on April 28. That was the second half of a doubleheader – earlier in the day, the shortstop went 3-for-3 with a pair of solo homers in a 7-4 defeat. In all, Johnson went 5-for-7 with five RBIs, four runs and 14 total bases in her final day of collegiate softball.
    Although the second loss wrapped up a 22-21 season for the Hawks, Johnson couldn’t have played much better. She finished 11th in NCAA Division II with a .468 batting average, crushed 11 homers and 15 doubles, drove in 46 runs and scored 33 times and posted a slugging percentage of .827.
    Her numbers are staggering, but what’s perhaps most impressive is that Rockhurst coach Galen Struve said her biggest contributions to the squad can’t be measured.
    “She was able to up everybody’s game around her,” Struve said. “She’s a great talker and had great anticipation. She’s one of those kids that can talk her infield into being good.”
    Johnson said that was a concentrated effort on her part during her senior campaign. While all the individual honors were great – she was named to the All-Great Lakes Valley Conference first team, All-GLVC West Division first team and All-Midwest Region second team – Johnson said her senior year stood out because of how much she improved the mental part of her game.
    “I’ve always pushed myself for more,” Johnson said. “And I’ve always believed there’s more potential for you to dig into. This year, I just found it within myself and I put myself in a position to be a leader for my teammates and generate an atmosphere for them to push for more.”
    As great as her season was, it almost didn’t happen. Johnson is a secondary education major and that program requires students to student teach their final semester. Johnson had the option to do that this spring and finish school.
    But the hours she’d have to spend teaching would also mean no softball.
    Johnson and Struve sat down to talk about her options. They weighed the pros and cons. Johnson said it was important to her to graduate with the same class she entered with, but eventually the potential regrets of missing her last season of softball were too much.
    “I thought and prayed about it,” Johnson said. “It came down to worrying that I’d have what-ifs and regrets that I didn’t get to have a senior year.”
    Johnson will have to return for another semester in the fall – she’ll student teach at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Kansas City and Norfleet Elementary School in Raytown – but adds that she has no doubt that she made the right call.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I won’t remember all the huge games,” she said. “And I won’t remember all the big plays I made, but something that will stick with me for life are the friendships I made on the team and the family I have at Rockhurst.”
    Her coach also won’t be forgetting her any time soon.
    “She’s rare,” Struve said. “She’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of kid. You don’t get to coach people like that all the time.”
    Follow Shawn Garrison on Twitter: @GarrisonEJC

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