LAKE STEVENS — Hard-throwing lefty junior Sara Johnson has elevated her game to the next level.
And her dominance in the circle this season is one of the biggest factors behind the Lake Stevens softball team’s perfect start.
Johnson recorded 14 strikeouts and tossed a three-hit shutout in yet another dazzling performance Monday, leading the unbeaten Vikings to a 2-0 win over visiting Monroe in a battle of Wesco 4A title contenders.
“I think she felt cheated last year,” Lake Stevens coach Sarah Hirsch said. “She knows that she struggled probably more than she should have, and she came into this season saying, ‘I want to be better, coach.’ I said, ‘We can do that.’ So we’ve just been working really hard … (and) she’s done a phenomenal job.”
Led by Johnson, the Vikings (9-0 overall, 5-0 Wesco 4A) are allowing just 1.7 runs per game this season, including a mere 0.8 per game in conference play. That’s a decline from the 3.1 allowed per game last year, when Lake Stevens finished 11-10 after being eliminated two games into the district tournament.
“I think I’ve matured since then, figuring out what works for me,” Johnson said.
Monday was Johnson’s second three-hit shutout against an elite opponent in less than a week, dating back to her gem last Tuesday in a 3-0 win over previously unbeaten Jackson.
Johnson knew she needed to be on top of her game with Monroe junior pitcher and University of Washington commit McKenzie Schulz on the other side. Schulz yielded only four hits and didn’t allow a run until the sixth inning, but was outdueled by Johnson in just the latest showdown between the two star pitchers.
“We’ve always gone back and forth with each other,” Johnson said. “We’ve played each other since we were little girls, and so we’ve always had that competitive edge against each other.”
Lake Stevens and Monroe (6-4, 2-2) were deadlocked in a scoreless tie until the bottom of the sixth, when the Vikings finally broke through.
Lake Stevens junior Camryn DuBois helped key the inning by lining a two-out double into the right-center field gap, putting runners on second and third with two outs. Sydney Haynes, a senior, then grounded a two-run single in between shortstop and third base to give the Vikings a 2-0 lead.
“(In DuBois’ previous) at-bat, she popped up right in front of the plate,” Hirsch said. “We talked a little bit about it, and she made the adjustment. It was like she knew (the pitch) was coming, and she was ready to roll for it. So I’m proud of her for that.”
The two-run lead was more than enough for Johnson, who capped her brilliant outing by striking out the side in the seventh to seal the victory. Johnson walked only two batters and didn’t allow a runner past second base.
At the midway point of the season, Lake Stevens is in sole possession of first place in Wesco 4A. But the Vikings aren’t focused on that — or their unblemished record.
“We’re just going game to game,” Johnson said, “because we learned from years past that anyone can beat anyone.”