Having played travel baseball at some level since he was 9, Owen Johnson downplayed his adjustment to becoming the starting second baseman for defending Division I state champion New Albany.
The junior made sure to credit the player to his right for easing the transition when necessary.
Coach Dave Starling pointed to the middle infield of Johnson and junior shortstop Oliver Shroyer as one of the team’s strengths as the Eagles enter the final few weeks of the regular season.
“They’ve been so solid defensively and at eighth and ninth in the order, they’ve been producing. You can’t ask any more out of the bottom of the order,” Starling said. “You want people there for the guys coming up at the top (of the lineup). They’ve been there before.”
After starting all of last season, Shroyer has become one of the Eagles’ top hitters in addition to remaining a defensive stalwart. Through 16 games, he was batting .514 with 18 hits, five doubles, 10 RBI and eight walks.
Johnson was batting .316 with 12 hits, 16 RBI, two doubles, a home run and nine walks. His average climbed 38 points in an April 23 sweep of Olentangy Liberty (7-4) and Oberlin Firelands (14-8) as he went 3-for-6 with three RBI.
New Albany was 13-3 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division – alone in first place – before playing Westland on April 28.
A 4-2 win at Pickerington North on April 22, in which Shroyer provided both breathing room and the eventual winning runs with a two-run double in the fifth inning, put New Albany atop the league.
“I like my offense. It’s getting better,” Shroyer said. “I’m trying to focus more, stay in the zone and stay locked in.”
He and Johnson began playing for New Albany Youth Baseball at age 9 and did so for three years. Several current high school teammates from that program were on New Albany 12U Gold’s Little League state championship team in 2018 that came within two wins of advancing to the Little League World Series.
“It just feels a lot more comfortable out there, to be honest,” said Johnson, who succeeded 2021 graduate Mattox Mead at second base. “In travel ball, I play with a lot of guys I don’t really know that well and it’s just not the same. (Shroyer) and I communicate super well. We know when to joke and have fun and when to be serious and do our jobs.”
Ranked eighth in the Division I state poll of April 25, New Albany is scheduled to finish OCC-Ohio play with six games May 2-11, sandwiched around the district tournament draw May 8.
“I think we’ve been fun to watch,” Shroyer said. “Good communication has been the key. We talk a lot. We have fun. We just try to have fun and that’s why I think we’re doing pretty well.”
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Baseball: Middle infield serves as key cog for New Albany