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Jun 18, 2019 12:37 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Scott Johnson Steps Down As Head Coach Of Southampton Varsity Baseball Team

Scott Johnson buddies up with his ace Jem Sisco after he stymied Mt. Sinai in a 2018 playoff game. DREW BUDD
Jun 18, 2019 4:23 PM

Nearly 10 years ago, during the 2010 varsity baseball season, Scott Johnson was asked to fill in for a few games as head coach of the Southampton High School team. What was initially only supposed to be a few games for Johnson, turned into a long postseason run for him, his son Sean, and the rest of the Mariners, who won Suffolk County and Long Island Class B Championships that season and reached the Regional Final.

It was a sign of things to come for Johnson. After being Gary Pike’s assistant coach for a few seasons after that successful run in 2010, Johnson officially took over as head coach of the varsity squad in 2014. After this past season concluded, Johnson let Southampton Athletic Director Darren Phillips know that he would be stepping down.

Johnson, who is the executive director at SYS as well as a Suffolk County basketball official, said that at his age—he’s currently 58—the head coach position was starting to take its toll.

“Quite honestly, at my age, it’s not only mentally challenging, but physically challenging,” he said. “Every day, or six days a week, for seven weeks straight, I’m throwing batting practice, hitting fly balls, ground balls, and I was supposedly done with throwing after college. It’s not easy when you’re a couple of clicks away from 60.

“I thought it was time for somebody else to come in with some more energy, physically,” Johnson added. “I’ll still be at SYS. That’s my main thing. That runs in the family, being a director of an athletic site. My father was, for a long time back home up in Westchester, so I’m kind of following in his footsteps. Baseball was always an additional thing for me, but I remember playing and I always appreciated my coaches in high school, so hopefully my players felt the same way about me.”

Johnson played baseball at Lakeland High School in Westchester, then played at Juniata College in Pennsylvania. He and his family moved to Southampton in 1999, the same year he got on the board at SYS and eventually became its director.

Phillips said that Johnson would certainly be missed, and appreciated the way he ran the program the past five seasons.

“He’s been awesome, and I’m sad to see him go,” he said. “I think the world of Scott. I know the kids loved him too. They had a lot of respect for him that he played in college, and even though he loves basketball, Scott told me baseball is his first love. I wish him well.

“Now we have that challenge to find someone to take over the program,” Phillips added. “We haven’t officially posted the spring positions, so we haven’t replaced Scott yet, but hopefully we find somebody to step up like he did when he took over.”

Johnson’s record in his five-year career was 75-58, and he helped guide the team to the playoffs every year, which is impressive given the fact that the Mariners were a Class A team for the first time in a few of those seasons. But even when it was a Class B team, it had to put up with powerhouses such as Center Moriches and Mattituck.

But Johnson cared about more than just winning ball games.

“I love to win—no one loves to win more than I do—but the biggest thing for me was making these kids ready for life,” he said. “I always told them, this is the best time of your life, you’re going to be best friends for life with a lot of your teammates. Kids today live day to day, but I always told them, 20, 30, 40 years from now, there are going to be certain moments that they’ll remember for a lifetime. Winning and all that stuff is really important to me, but it was more so the friendships along the way that were what it was all about.”

Over the past few seasons, Johnson could always be seen in and around the Southampton varsity baseball field with his assistant, Gary Pike, and one of his top players, Thomas Gabriele, a senior who is graduating this month and joining the U.S. Army. Gabriele, who played under Johnson for three years, said he was, without a doubt, his favorite coach ever.

“First of all, aside from being a great coach, he was just a great guy,” he said. “I worked with him during the summer at SYS, so I even got to see that side of him, and that translates really well onto the field. He always had a good attitude and he always knew how to get the most out of us and have us play to our best ability. Over the years, there were some teams that we probably shouldn’t have beaten, or maybe some years where we shouldn’t have maybe gone as far as we did, but he squeezed as much juice out of the lemon—he pressed the right buttons at the right times.”

While Johnson only had five full years as head coach, the team certainly had its moments of greatness. In 2017, Southampton played Mattituck in a 19-inning thriller to end the regular season, then, just days later, played Mount Sinai in another extra-inning game that it lost and was eventually eliminated in the double-elimination playoffs by Mount Sinai. The very next season, Southampton, as an 11 seed, stunned Mount Sinai behind a brilliant pitching performance from Jem Sisco and Gabriele said he had never seen Johnson so happy after a win.

The Mariners continued in the 2018 playoffs, where they played another marathon against a loaded Sayville team. If they would have won, they would have been in the championship game against Rocky Point. After 18 innings—played across two days—Sayville won and eliminated Southampton.

“That’s my biggest regret, not winning that game, because Scott had been saying that was going to be his final season before deciding to come back this season,” Gabriele said. “I had delusions of winning the county title that year for Scott, to have him go out as a champion. We almost did it, as the 11th seed. You have to give credit to the coach on that. I’m convinced, had someone else been coaching, maybe besides Gary, that doesn’t happen.”

Johnson said there were some issues within the baseball program when he took it over and he would “like to think we quelled that, and a big part of that was making the kids accountable and treating the kids like adults.” Gabriele said he accomplished that and then some.

“Looking at other teams out there that we play every so often, some of them look really put together while others just look like they’re going through the motions. We’re one of those teams that looks like we’re put together, for sure, and I think, under Scott at least, we’ve been committed to playing and winning every day. If that was his goal, he succeeded.”

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