June 16, 2010

CWS Previews


Arizona St. | Clemson | Florida | Florida St. | Oklahoma | South Carolina | TCU | UCLA

By Bob Ferrante
Special to the NCAA.com

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -
Sherman Johnson weighed just 155 pounds when he arrived on campus.

He had received no scholarship offers coming out of Tampa Alonso High and decided that he would try to walk on at Florida State.

FSU coaches knew Johnson. He had attended coach Mike Martin's summer camps twice in high school.

So when they called Johnson, he was excited. Even if all they were looking for was an extra body to play an infield position for a fall intrasquad game.

"When he enrolled at Florida State, we had said something to him about coming out," Martin said. "We needed an infielder for a squad game, and we called him and he came out.

"He made every practice he could his freshman year, but he was not a part of our athletic program. He was tied up in classes. But he made a huge impression on us."

Johnson has made quite an impression the past few weeks. The sophomore third baseman was the MVP of the Norwich Regional, hitting .417 with two home runs, a double, four RBIs and five runs scored.

In the Super Regional against Vanderbilt, Johnson hit .285 but delivered two doubles and six RBIs. Johnson's eighth-inning, bases-loaded double on Sunday extended FSU's lead to 7-3 and the Seminoles held on for a 7-6 win and a trip to the College World Series.

Johnson was hitting with the bases loaded because Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin opted to walk leadoff hitter Tyler Holt to load the bases. The move was an understandable baseball decision, Johnson said. But he also rose to the challenge.

"The first pitch was a change-up and I swung through it," Johnson said of his at-bat against Vanderbilt's Chase Reid. "It was a good pitch. ... He came back with a change-up and I just recognized it out of his hands. The first time I didn't really see it. The second time I saw it out of his hand and I hit it."

Johnson has been hitting well since the season began, and he's one of the reasons why FSU is making its 20th trip to the CWS. The Seminoles (47-18) open against TCU (51-12) on Saturday.

FSU likely wouldn't be in Omaha if it weren't for Johnson. He is second on the team in batting average (.332), tied for second in doubles (15), third in RBIs (57) and also has nine home runs.

He also has a great eye at the plate with 44 walks -- including 12 during a five-game span in May. He has also played solid defense, starting 65 games and making just eight errors.

It's an impressive season for a sophomore who is still a walk-on -- although it's a safe bet he will earn at least a partial scholarship next season.

He has either come a long way in two years or always had the talent in him. Johnson was an all-county pick his last two seasons at Alonso High, but at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds he wasn't turning the heads of college coaches.

So he came to Tallahassee, gradually added 30 pounds and went 10 for 21 with 10 RBIs in 2009. He then excelled in summer ball with the Covington (Va.) Lumberjacks, hitting .310 and leading the team to the league title.

This summer, he's the No. 2 hitter for an FSU team that's back in the CWS after a year's absence.

"It's been my dream to come to Florida State to play baseball," Johnson said.

The dream season continues for FSU. The Seminoles were swept by Clemson at the end of the regular season. But FSU bounced back to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, hit the road to win a regional in Norwich, Conn., and fought off Vanderbilt in three games during the Super Regionals.

"This is a scrappy team," FSU junior center fielder Tyler Holt said. "It's not big-name guys like (former FSU stars) Buster Posey, Jack Rye, Tony Delmonico. This is honestly a bunch of nobodies, from all over the country, that love to play the game and compete."