He was hitting doubles at an inordinate clip, but hard-swinging Gonzaga junior Troy Johnston wasn’t thinking about the statistical relevance of his recent surge.
A Snapchat message from teammate Alek Jacob offered Johnston some context.
“He’s always checking the stats and I really had no idea,” said Johnston, who learned from Jacob in late April he was leading NCAA Division I baseball in doubles.
“I was like, ‘OK, wow,’ ” Johnston said. “I have never hit that many in a season.”
Johnston, now third in the country in doubles (26), is one away from Gonzaga’s single-season record.
The Puyallup, Washington, product can reach that milestone this week when the second-seeded Bulldogs (30-22) open the West Coast Conference Tournament on Thursday against No. 3 seed Saint Mary’s (33-20) in Stockton, California. Gonzaga, the defending WCC Tournament champion, dropped two of three games against the Gaels earlier this month in Spokane,
The emergence of Johnston, who has a team-leading .327 batting average and .601 slugging percentage with nine home runs, was one of the primary reasons the Bulldogs were in a down-to-the-wire pennant race with No. 1 seed BYU (36-15).
Doubles became his niche, hitting 12 in a 12-game span at midseason.
Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf lauded Johnston’s aggressive approach at the plate.
“When you hit for doubles, you have to be able to use the whole field, and he does a great job of hitting it to left-center as a left-handed hitter,” Machtolf said. “And you have to be able to handle the breaking ball, which he’s done.”
Machtolf started Johnston in 20 games as a freshman in 2017, when he hit .323 with 30 hits and 17 RBIs. He earned All-WCC freshman team distinction.
A broken hand derailed Johnston’s sophomore season last year, and he was shut down at midseason.
Johnston’s has used this breakout season – he was named to the All-WCC first team on Tuesday – to make up for lost time.
“Being healthy is really what’s helped springboard me into the player I’ve become,” he said.
Gonzaga teammate and friend Michael Spellacy, a pitcher from Puyallup, remembers Johnston’s power at the plate in high school.
Johnston attended Rogers High in Puyallup, a crosstown rival of Spellacy’s school, Puyallup High.
Spellacy’s happy he’s longer on the receiving end of Johnston’s hitting.
“I saw this all through high school, and I knew he had it in him to do it at this level, too,” Spellacy said. “He’s someone we can look to for energy and get us going. He’s a competitor. Very competitive at his at-bats.
“He doesn’t get down on himself after a bad at-bat, just moves forward, something he probably learned from his dad.”
Johnson’s father is longtime Rogers High wrestling coach David Johnston, who was named the WIAA 4A Coach of the Year last season.
“Probably the greatest regret in my life was not wrestling for him my senior year,” Troy Johnston said, pointing to injuries he sustained in football season for staying off the mat. “I learned a lot from him, especially in baseball.”
Johnston recently checked off a major box on his to-do list, becoming engaged to his girlfriend earlier this month.
He has two more: playing in his first NCAA Tournament and, if all goes well, hearing his name called in next month’s MLB draft.
The WCC will likely be a one-bid conference when the NCAA Tournament field is announced next week, so the Bulldogs will need to win the WCC Tournament to advance.
“We have to do the little things right if we’re going to win the tournament. Get our bats alive again,” Johnston said.
“I’ll think about (the draft) after the tournament. If I get drafted, great. If not, I get to come back and play here, which is also great.”
Zags named All-WCC
Johnston, Jacob and several other Bulldogs were recognized by the WCC on Tuesday.
Jacob joined Johnston on the All-WCC first team after going 5-1 with seven saves and a 1.60 earned-run average in league play. The North Central graduate totaled 11 saves and held hitters to a .202 average.
Nick Nyquist, a former Coeur d’Alene High star, and Ernie Yake were named to the second team. Nyquist (.317 batting average) hit a team-high 10 homers and had 51 RBIs. Yake (.305) had 29 RBIs and scored 40 runs
Mac Lardner, Brett Harris and Guthrie Morrison were honorable mention. Mason Wells was named to the all-freshman team.
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