Madi Huck will be looking to become a more effective pitcher for the Kent State University softball team next season and has been collaborating with assistant coach Emma Johnson in an effort to take her game to the next level.
Huck, a 2016 Delaware Hayes High School graduate, is anxious to continue her development with Johnson, a 2011 Groveport Madison graduate and one of the most decorated pitchers in Kent State history.
"Coach (Johnson) has a great in-game approach that makes me calm," said Huck, who was named second-team all-Mid-American Conference this spring. "She can relate to every situation as a pitcher because she's been there before."
Huck went 18-9 with one save, a 2.68 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 180 1/3 innings. She made 27 starts and posted 21 complete games, including seven shutouts, for the Golden Flashes, who finished 29-23 overall and 14-9 in the MAC.
Johnson, a 2015 Kent State graduate, twice was named MAC Pitcher of the Year and was a two-time All-Mideast Region selection and a four-time all-conference pick.
As a senior, Johnson boasted the nation's third-lowest ERA and led Kent State to a 41-13 record and the MAC championship. She also ranked in the top five nationally in strikeouts per seven innings, hits allowed per seven innings and shutouts.
After college, Johnson played two years with the Pennsylvania Rebellion of National Pro Fastpitch before an injury ended her playing career. She returned to Kent State last summer as an assistant coach.
"It was definitely a good first year coaching for me," said Johnson, who posted 63 wins, 36 shutouts and 12 no-hitters at Groveport and ranked fifth in the state in career strikeouts (1,243) when she graduated. "I really missed softball. I started working in accounting, which was my major. But I found out quickly that it wasn't my passion. (Kent State) coach (Eric) Oakley reached out to me and I thought this was a perfect fit. It was a no-brainer."
Johnson had given pitching lessons at Mannino's Grand Slam USA in Dublin for several years.
"I enjoyed working with Emma when I was an assistant here and I knew she'd do a great job (as an assistant)," Oakley said. "When you can get an alumnus to re-invest in the program, you know their heart is in it from the start. She's one of the best pitchers in program history, she communicates well and is an awesome coach and role model for Madi and all of our pitching staff."
Johnson took note of Huck early last fall.
"Madi was throwing 62 mph when we started last fall and wound up at 66 mph at the end of last fall," Johnson said. "We also worked a lot on her screwball and it ended up being one of her go-to pitches. I think her biggest improvement next year will be in her count effectiveness. I'd like to see her get ahead in the counts much more consistently.
"She was a workhorse for us last season because we went into the season with a good combination in the circle, but an injury forced (Huck) to do a lot for us. Although we had a few others step up, Madi went from pitching 53 innings as a freshman to 180 innings. You could tell when she pitched three days in a row in the MAC tournament that she was worn down a bit. I think she'll benefit more next year when we have more options in the circle."
At Delaware, Huck had a career record of 75-7 with a 0.78 ERA and 644 strikeouts in 509 innings, including a 23-1 mark with a 0.50 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 140 innings as a senior when she tossed six no-hitters and was named Gatorade Ohio Softball Player of the Year and first-team all-state. She also was first-team all-state as a junior and made second-team all-state as a sophomore.
"I knew once she got the opportunity she would take it and run with it," Delaware coach Mark Thomas said. "With her work ethic, it was just a matter of time."
"There's always room for improvement," Huck said. "I had a lot of success with aggressive hitters, but I need to improve against patient hitters. I did a good job with pitches starting near the strike zone but finishing outside of the zone. I need to be able to do better with pitches beginning outside of the zone and finishing on the corners."
Huck also was a prolific hitter for the Pacers, batting .556 with 13 home runs and 51 RBI as a senior. She did not get an opportunity to hit for the Golden Flashes this spring, however, as Oakley and Johnson did not want to risk an injury given that one of the team's other top pitchers was injured.
"We like our pitchers to hit, but we just couldn't do that with Madi this year," Oakley said. "We know she can hit the ball, but we just couldn't risk any type of injury to her, whether it was running the bases or some freak injury. But if she proves herself again next year, she'll get the chance to hit."
Huck was one of seven central Ohio products on Kent State's roster this spring. The others were Hunter Brancifort, Allie Luther and Kaitlyn Miller of Pickerington Central, Maria Cegledy of Hartley and Bailey Brownfield and Brenna Brownfield of Lakewood.