By Kyle Daubs
It’s fun when everything comes together.
At least, that is the perspective from Mattoon grad Meade Johnson these days.
The former All-Apollo pitcher from the 2021 Apollo Conference champion Mattoon squad has continued his winning ways. Johnson leads Heartland Community College in innings pitched (21⅓), wins (4-0), and owns a 1.27 earned run average.
“I’m just going out and whatever role he puts me in, I attack,” said Johnson. “Just trying to fill up the zone with strikes and get people out.”
Heartland is on pace to win the conference if the team can continue to play at a high level. The team is riding a 14-game winning streak and is 22-6 on the season with a perfect 14-0 mark in the conference. If Heartland continues to play at this level, it will set up an interesting four-game series on April 29 and 30 with Lincoln Land, who is 12-2 in the conference.
“We’re just doing everything right,” said Johnson. “Pitchers are throwing well. Hitters are hitting. We know how good we can be and how bad we can be. The only person that can beat us is us, so we are taking care of things to go out and win.”
Johnson is referring to the beginning of the season. The team was coming off a 4-2 tournament at the Russmat Central Florida Invitational. After defeating Lake Land College, the team dropped an embarrassing 16-6 loss to Southeastern Iowa Community College, which Johnson calls a pivotal moment in the season.
“We were 8-6 after that loss and then we played Parkland the following week,” said Johnson. “We were playing at the Corn Crib at home and we were down five runs at the start. One of the sophomores called a meeting and said this is now how we play baseball and we banded together.”
Heartland ultimately won that game 11-7 and then also came back from being down in the fourth contest to win 12-11 to sweep the conference foe from Champaign.
“There was no better feeling than coming back to sweep a conference rival,” said Johnson. “We were down 11-3 at one point in that game and then scored nine runs in three of the last four innings. Nothing was going well for us in that game, but then someone lit a fire under us and we came back and won.”
As the team continues to rattle off wins, Johnson remains a constant variable in the rotation.
Johnson began the year with five innings of one-hit ball against Harper College with 11 strikeouts. He followed that up with another one-hitter in five innings with 10 strikeouts against Glen Oak Community College. In his last three games, Johnson owns 12 strikeouts in 11 ⅓ innings.
“I feel like there isn’t much difference for me,” said Johnson. “It’s baseball. You have to change the way you think about it with college. There are better hitters, but it’s the same game of baseball. Throw strikes, get ahead, and get people out.”
Johnson said that Heartland can go as far as they want this season as long as the team continues to keep thinking the way they have up to this point.
“I think we’re the best team in the country as long as we keep thinking we are the best team,” said Johnson. “We’re just one big family. We have a lot of guys that pick each other up. When one is struggling, the other is picking him up. If a guy misses an RBI opportunity, another guy gets the hit. If someone struggles on the mound, another guy comes in to shut the door. It’s someone constantly picking you up and us trusting that our teammate has your back. We had some tough early losses, but deep down we know we are a good team.”