Hokies Softball: Pitching Coach Josh Johnson Has Added Experience, Expertise

Josh Johnson has brought invaluable experience and expertise in his first year as the pitching coach for Hokies softball. (Jon Fleming)

Josh Johnson knows more about softball than you.

His academic record speaks for itself; he holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in psychology and is a few months away from a doctorate in biomechanics and exercise science.

That’s not even mentioning his playing career: 13 years at the major level of the North American Fastpitch Association and four seasons on the United States national team. Or his coaching tenure, going back to 2010. All of that brought Johnson to Virginia Tech as its softball pitching coach this season.

Before that, Johnson was a Division III baseball player at the University of Wisconsin-Stout whose aspirations shifted to professional softball. 

“I always thought one day I’d get drafted [in Major League Baseball], but then I realized I wasn’t quite at that level,” Johnson told Tech Sideline. “But in fastpitch, there were a couple things that were different in the nuances. I had pretty quick hands, so I was able to get the barrel to the ball a little bit better in softball than some people.”

Johnson began playing on community teams in Wisconsin when he was 17 and began playing more seriously throughout his college years. He was on teams in the NAFA from 2004 to 2017, was named to its All-World Team 16 times and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2013. Then Johnson played on the national team from 2012 to 2016. He has a multitude of playing experience — across four continents — that influences how he sees the game.

At the same time, Johnson began coaching. While he was working on a doctorate at Florida State, he started teaching lessons and working at Faulkner State Community College. He then worked at Louisiana in 2013 — supporting a team that advanced to a super regional — and at UTEP in 2014. Then he spent four seasons at Ball State and another four at Mississippi State before arriving in Blacksburg last summer.

“I started coaching college kids and started realizing I had a passion for doing lessons,” he said. “I love doing lessons and — to this day — love to help people get better. At the end of the day, my passion for college softball started to really really grow from there.”

Johnson’s education and experience led him to a focus on technology. The Hokies borrow machines from the Granata Biomechanics Lab on campus — which measures ball flight data, strength data and grip strength — and set them up in their indoor practice facility. It allows Johnson to formulate individual plans for the pitchers based on the data he collects.

“It offers objectiveness to anything that we’re collecting,” Johnson said. “Instead of me saying, ‘That was good’ or ‘That was bad’ or ‘That wasn’t gonna work,’ I can offer them actual, objective data. Instead of it being a process where we’re kind of guessing a little bit, it’s more of a process of, ‘OK, this is what we need.’”

Virginia Tech had its ups and downs in the circle last season. Josh Johnson has brought consistency in 2024. (Jon Fleming)

The Hokies have relied heavily on three starting pitchers this season — Emma Lemley, Lyndsey Grein and Emma Mazzarone — while Cassie Grizzard and Molly Jacobson complement them. With Lemley, Johnson’s focus this season was to add changeups and drop balls to her arsenal.

“Coach Josh and I had talked last week and I was like, ‘I want to throw more changeups,’” Lemley said after last Friday’s win over Boston College. “Even if they’re bad changeups, I want them to be good for playoff time. He listened to me and he called more changeups.”

Before the season, head coach Pete D’Amour outlined the importance of having multiple pitches. Lemley spent the previous two seasons focusing on her rise ball. Although the pitch frequently reached 70 miles per hour, if it was her only option, opposing teams could prepare for it. To counteract that, Johnson worked with Lemley to develop more offspeed pitches.

“The drop ball has been really effective,” Johnson said. “She’s getting way more comfortable locating it and throwing it where she wants to. I think those are going to be the X-factors going forward this year.”

Johnson’s impact has been immediate. Forty-five games in, Tech sits fourth in the ACC with a team earned run average of 2.95 and second with an opponents’ batting average of .203. A year ago, the Hokies ranked ninth and 11th in those statistics with a 3.93 ERA and a .273 batting average against, respectively.

With all of Tech’s arms, Johnson is bringing his experience and expertise to a rapidly changing softball landscape. 

“I believe that really what it helps me to do is to give more imagination on what’s possible,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen 89 miles per hour, I’ve seen a ball drop 18 inches, I’ve seen a rise ball that looks like it air bends and every kind of changeup imaginable. Those are the kind of things that you start to really think about [when imagining] what’s possible and what these girls can do.”

10 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Good grief … a women’s softball PITCHING coach. Who knew? Women’s sports have really come of age. Go Lady Hokies.

  2. This is a great article and why I subscribe to TSL – loads of insight along with some personal color.

  3. World class fast pitch 🥎 must be a blur … shape shifting drops and rises🔥

  4. Ultimately, continued improvement in the circle is what will determine how long this team plays in May. I’m convinced that 1 – 8 VT is good enough to compete in OKC.

  5. Awesome. If Lemley is able to just get those NEAR the strike zone with similar arm motion as her rise ball, she will be lethal

  6. What an awesome as part of the staff! story. Great job, Sam. VT is fortunate to have Coach Johnson as part of the staff!

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