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From College Royalty to Royal: Ole Miss Closer Brandon Johnson Ready To Begin Next Chapter

From College Royalty to Royal: Ole Miss Closer Brandon Johnson Ready To Begin Next Chapter

OXFORD, Miss. — In the summer of 2020, Oxford, Mississippi was asleep. COVID-19 had forced businesses to temporarily close around the city, and the campus of Ole Miss was like a ghost town, with no students even allowed to go to their classrooms. But stepping onto campus that summer was a spark plug who would give Oxford and the Ole Miss baseball team an energy like no other.

Enter Brandon Johnson.

A DREAM COME TRUE

Johnson didn’t get to experience Ole Miss like most recruits when he first got to campus. There were no photoshoots, no full stadiums, and no trips into the city. But after the COVID shutdown eased up, Johnson was able to finally experience the little piece of Heaven that is Oxford.

It was a dream come true. Everybody says it’s the most beautiful place in the country, with the best fans, the scenery there, the school, it was amazing. It opens up your eyes and lets you really know how much home you can see in a place like Oxford.”

Brandon Johnson on Oxford

THE START OF THE JOURNEY

Johnson’s first season with Ole Miss was slightly lost in the story of the offense, and of course the pitching focus was on superstar Doug Nikhazy.

Johnson posted a 1-0 record with a 4.70 ERA in 23 innings. Unfortunately, he and his teammates saw their season end as they ran into the buzz saw that was 2021 Arizona in the Tucson Super Regional. Johnson managed just 1.2 innings in game three, giving up three runs on four hits.

But BJ was determined to make 2022 a bounce back year.

My first year there, I had a little up and down season, but then came back this past year and was blessed enough to be in the closer role… Ultimately coming through with the national championship. That itself is an experience you’ll never be able to trade in. Not too many people can say they were a part of a team like that, and I’m glad to be a part of possibly the best story to ever happen in college baseball.

Brandon Johnson

THE HYPE MAN COMETH

Johnson quickly became known for his amped up celebrations after a big strike out or finishing off a game. His fist pumps, leg kicks and audible yells didn’t just fire up the fans. They fired up his teammates as well, particularly catcher Hayden Dunhurst.

Watching BJ celebrate a big win would make anyone want to run through a brick wall for him.

REDEMPTION

2021 Arizona was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Doug Nikhazy did Doug Nikhazy things, but other than that, the Wildcats dominated the Rebels, winning two out of three games in the super regional and moving on to Omaha.

So it was fitting that after Ole Miss was selected as the last team into the field of 64, the Rebels would have to face Arizona in the Coral Gables regional.

And Johnson, after a rough showing against the ‘Cats last year, would get the chance to shut the door in game one. With the Rebels leading 7-4, the Wildcats had two runners in scoring position with Johnson on the mound. But this time, BJ won the battle.

With the win, Ole Miss moved on to face the regional’s No. 1 seed, the Miami Hurricanes, in the winners bracket game. And the Brandon Johnson show continued.

Ole Miss would go on to defeat Arizona for a second time in the title game to punch its ticket to the Hattiesburg Super Regional, where the Rebs swept Southern Miss, and moved on to Omaha.

“THE” PITCH

After finishing off the win over Miami, Johnson didn’t see the mound again until the Rebels faced Arkansas in the 1-0 game in Omaha. Despite the 13-3 lead, Johnson hadn’t pitched in about two weeks and needed some time on the mound.

You lose your sharpness, you kinda lose your edge about you. When you’re throwing every week on a routine schedule, when you’re throwing twice a weekend, you know your feel, you know how the ball is going to come out of your hand. You can’t replicate game reps whether it’s a ten-run game or a one-run game in the ninth. You can’t replicate that adrenaline in the bullpen or even in a live outing in an intra-squad. So when you don’t pitch for a while, you lose a little feel. You don’t forget how the game feels but it kinda catches up to you a little bit.

Brandon Johnson

Johnson would finish off the Arkansas game and then have six more days off before entering game two of the championship series against Oklahoma. The Rebels had a 1-0 series lead, a 4-2 lead in the game, and Johnson had a 1-2 count on Oklahoma designated hitter Sebastian Orduno.

Orduno fouled off the first 1-2 pitch, and Johnson said that was a good thing.

It kind of gave me a second to breathe and really take in the moment of being one strike away. You couldn’t let your emotions or your mind go too far that way, but I was able to walk back from home plate to the mound, and you look in the outfield, and you look across third base, and you look over at Tim Elko at first base and there’s nothing but a sea of powder blue and everyone’s on their feet and it kind of starts setting in a little bit.

Brandon Johnson

That’s when Brandon Johnson delivered the biggest pitch in the history of Ole Miss baseball — and the loudest roar he’d ever let out.

You throw the last pitch, and you see the swing about halfway through, and I forget everything from that moment until about twenty minutes later. I have no memory or recollection of how it happened or anything that happened until we were on the podium receiving our trophies. I have to go back and watch videos to know what I did or what the team even did, to see the dogpile. The next morning I woke up and did feel a lot of pain realizing I was on the bottom of the dogpile. At the moment it wasn’t too bad, but you wake up the next morning and your knees are a little more sore than what you can remember.

Brandon Johnson on when he delivered the championship-winning strikeout

But for Johnson, that little bit of soreness was absolutely worth it.

“You dream that as a little kid, ever since you step foot on a tee ball field and you start watching the College World Series,” Johnson explained. “Being able to be that guy and be at the bottom of the dogpile, it’s an all-time moment.”

FROM COLLEGE ROYALTY TO KANSAS CITY ROYAL

Johnson and the Rebels were on top of the world after winning the national championship.

But after a couple of weeks to take it all in, the Major League Baseball draft became the new focus. For Johnson, he knew he was going to get drafted, and had an idea of when he would go, but he knew that should he drop to a certain point, Ole Miss was there.

And he never ruled out a return to the Rebels.

Ole Miss is so special to you, it’s a home away from home. Everybody that got drafted, everybody that’s going to go, or everybody that didn’t go, they know that Ole Miss is the best place to play, or at least in my mind that you want to play, so there was a definite point where I had to weigh what opportunity was better; coming back and trying to go higher next year, or going now… I did not go into the draft thinking that I was going out no matter what.

Brandon Johnson 

Johnson got the call of a lifetime on day two of the draft in the ninth round. The Kansas City Royals, who had already drafted Hayden Dunhurst in the sixth round, picked Johnson at #265 overall.

“I knew my time was coming up, because probably six teams called within a minute,” Johnson said. “I knew the ninth round was about to be where I was going to fall. A lot of teams were saying that the next pick I was their guy. I was actually away from my family, they were all in the living room, they were all excited, but I couldn’t look at their faces so I was in another room answering the phone calls,” he said.

Then that phone call comes and the first word they say is ‘congratulations.’ And of course you go, ‘are you for real?’ and they say, ‘yes we’re being for real, you’re our next guy.’ Then they tell you that they’re proud of you and they’re ready to get you into their organization and get you where you’re going. Then you walk back into the living room and hear it across the TV and the place just erupts, it’s an amazing feeling.

Brandon Johnson on receiving the call on draft day

BACK TO WORK

For Johnson, his next journey will begin very quickly. His flight left Thursday to take him to Arizona where he will join the rookie league affiliate of the Royals. And even though he’s happy for the rest of his teammates that were drafted, he doesn’t intend to go easy on them.

“We’ve all already contacted each other. We’ll be back in Oxford working out in the offseason, so we know we’ll see each other soon,” Johnson said. “We wish each other the best of luck, but at the same time, you know when you see them in the box, there’s only one thing that can happen, and that’s them get sent back to the dugout rather than somebody hitting it over the fence on you.”

We wish Brandon and the rest of the new pro Rebs the best, and look forward to continuing to cover each of them as they make their way to the big leagues. Hotty Toddy!

(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)

Austin Eldridge
Austin Eldridge

Austin has more than ten years in sports media, including sports talk radio, play-by-play broadcasting and journalism. He has followed Ole Miss athletics for his entire life and has covered the Rebels and the rest of the SEC while working in the Memphis media market. Outside of sports media, Austin is a musician and outdoorsman. Before a serious accident forced him to be medically discharged, he was a multi-media journalist with the Mississippi National Guard.

About The Author

Austin Eldridge

Austin has more than ten years in sports media, including sports talk radio, play-by-play broadcasting and journalism. He has followed Ole Miss athletics for his entire life and has covered the Rebels and the rest of the SEC while working in the Memphis media market. Outside of sports media, Austin is a musician and outdoorsman. Before a serious accident forced him to be medically discharged, he was a multi-media journalist with the Mississippi National Guard.

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