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Techster leads offense despite injury

Darin Olde, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Melissa Johnson slid safely into home last Thursday, like she’s done so many times before.

Instead of avoiding an out, however, the Louisiana Tech University sophomore averted an infection that threatened to close her windpipe and escalate her to critical condition status at Barton Memorial Hospital.

Home, this time, was Johnson’s South Shore residence, where she grew up and played Viking varsity softball for four straight years.

Now, heading into her first D-I season as an upperclassman in the Western Athletic Conference, Johnson is a cornerstone player, who, like one of three bases, would irreparably change the dimension of Louisiana Tech ball if she wasn’t there.

But the infection that sent Johnson to Barton for three days is on its way out. She plans to have her tonsils removed and to resume a restful summer with her family.

She needs it. Especially after riding out a season that put her among the team’s elite.

Johnson led the team with four homers, a .377 slugging percentage, 55 total bases, eight doubles and 22 runs. She was second in RBIs at 19 and third in singles and hits.

And she was sick. The hard hitting sophomore with a .240 batting average was hospitalized in February due to the recurring tonsil infection.

Yet, she was one of only two players on her team to make and start all 48 games.

You’d think coach Bill Galloway would take “TECH” off her jersey and replace it with Lynda Carter’s stars and stripes.

However, 2002 wasn’t all about stopping bullets and hitting home runs.

Joining the WAC for the first time after a happy stay in the Sun Belt Conference, the Techsters spent more time on the road and faced tougher opponents like Fresno State.

They finished with a disappointing 3-21 WAC record and lost coach Galloway at the end of the season due to pending criminal investigations.

As well, Johnson underwent surgery for the fourth time on her big toe after a cleat injury last year.

She still improved from last year. But 2002 was a bigger challenge physically and emotionally.

The team had debilitating injuries at key times and started with seven sophomores.

But it was a tough league.

“I saw a number of great players. It was a great step for us and definitely a challenge,” Johnson said of their first run in the WAC.

She’s seen her game improve with the competition despite injury, and that even at 3-21, their record isn’t something she would take back.

Not with only two upperclassman to start in 2001.

“We’re an extremely young team gaining experience,” Johnson said. “I can’t take anything away from (the WAC) teams. They’re some of the best in the country.”

Besides, there are more important things in life to worry about.

Fortunately for Louisiana Tech, it’s not Johnson’s razor-sharp vision that’s going out. Thankfully, it’s nothing that will affect her game.

Nor will it affect the young Techsters looking for a second crack at the WAC.

— Darin Olde can be reached at dolde@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 542-8008.


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