Johns ready to represent Aggies in North-South game
by Erich Hilkert
SYLACAUGA—Aside from taking reps as the starting quarterback at Sylacauga during summer workouts, Hunter Johns has managed to squeeze in work at the batting cages and will make a trip to Montgomery to play at Riverwalk Stadium in the North-South baseball game July 15.

Only the top 18 junior class players in the state make it from each end of the state. Johns, like Childersburg representative Reeves Brashear, will play for the North squad.

Sylacauga head coach Mike Gibbs did not settle for breaking the news in a straightforward manner.

“He kind of scared me about it a little bit,” Johns said. “He played a little joke on me there at the beginning, but I was real excited when I found out what it was. I felt real honored to be selected and to go down there and play.”

Johns was disappointed in the way he performed at the plate this past season, so he’s been focusing on his swing this summer with a little bit of guidance.

“I really want to work on my hitting, because I know I can do it; it’s just I didn’t get up to my potential this year,” Johns said. “It was just a rough time. I’ve been working with coach [Marty] Turner. He’s been helping me a lot. He’s been pointing some stuff out that I’ve been doing wrong. I can notice a change already in how I’m hitting now. I feel pretty confident going down there.”

Although Johns struggled at the plate this season, he was praised for his defensive abilities behind the plate as well as his leadership.

“He was definitely a defensive weapon, and he handled our pitchers very well,” Gibbs said. “When he struggled offensively, he never let it affect him behind the plate, because he has a lot of mental toughness.”

While there will be plenty of eyeballs at Riverwalk Stadium including many of the state’s high school coaches and quite a few college coaches as well, the Sylacauga coaching staff has tried to remind Johns not to be nervous but to play relaxed.

“My coaches have just been telling me to stay relaxed and don’t try to press or anything, don’t try to make things happen,” Johns explained. “Just be the player that I am and just relax and have fun with it. I want to try to impress and get a couple of them to look my way, but it’s not going to help any if that’s all I’m thinking about when I’m playing. I just want to relax and play.”

Gibbs believes part of the struggles Johns had at the plate last season stemmed from Johns feeling too much pressure to do something big every time he stepped into the batter’s box. Gibbs noted Johns had a solid on-base percentage, even if his batting average wasn’t where Johns wanted it.

Even while playing below personal expectations, Johns still managed to be selected to the All-County baseball team. Gibbs is confident Johns will rebound at the plate next season.

Johns started playing the position of catcher when he was nine years old and has been playing catcher ever since then. He has worn the Sylacauga school colors in baseball since playing for the middle school team in the seventh grade. Johns got his first start for the varsity team during his sophomore season and stepped up to be a leader on a team that finished the season with a 23-12 record, won the Talladega County tournament, and made it to the first round of the AHSAA class 5A playoffs.

“I thought we had a really good season this year as a team,” Johns said. “We had our ups and downs, but we got going towards the end of the year and just caught a tough break in Homewood in the first round. We got unlucky in that series, but we’re hoping to get back next year and try to make it further.”

While Johns knows only one of his teammates on the North squad, Childersburg’s Reeves Brashear, he hopes he can step up and be a leader during the All-Star game.

“I know Reeves from Childersburg, but that’s about it,” Johns said. “I’m just going to try to play like I would play with my team—Sylacauga—and just be a leader.”
© 2013