Skowhegan softball coach Lee Johnson has won his share of games in 16 years as head coach, most recently winning a state title in 2013. But he’s also a realist and, with a team that included eight freshmen this season, he set his goal on making one of the eight available playoffs spots in Class A North.

His Indians exceeded those expectations and then some as they caught fire in the playoffs, won a regional title and advance to the state championship game where they lost to Biddeford. For his effort, Johnson has been selected Morning Sentinel Softball Coach of the Year. Also considered were Madison coach Chris LeBlanc and Messalonskee coach Leo Bouchard.

In a sense the Indians met Johnson’s expectations, finishing sixth in the Class A North regular season with a record of 9-7. But they showed steady improvement after a slow start.

“We played very young early,” Johnson said. “We played better in the second half period. We hit our stride at the right time.”

The Indians beat third-seeded Bangor on the road in the opening round of the playoffs and took off from there. Convincing wins against Oxford Hills and Edward Little, both higher seeds, took the Indians to the state championship game.

A team meeting and dinner at a player’s house during the season helped the team bond together, Johnson said.

“We stayed up all night and talked,” senior Elize Bedard said.

Johnson coached Bedard in basketball as well and she calls him her favorite coach.

“He’s very good with girls,” she said. “He’s a laid back coach and he never yells. He knows our emotions. He just knows how to teach us.”

Johnson is quick to point out he has plenty of help, beginning with long-time friend and volunteer Paul McCarty. John Alward and Steve Gould also volunteer with the team while Kim Morrison and Jessica Strout are assistants. Johnson listens to all of them.

“Any coach needs good coaches around him,” he said. “We talk about a lot of different things.’

Johnson generally has the final say but it’s his coaching style that sets the tone for the team.

“He’s always kept up on the newest things,” Bedard said. “And he’s a very positive person.”

Bedard is one of three seniors on the team who have played on three regional championship teams although this year’s appeared the least likely of the three.

“I am very surprised,” she said. “We had a very young team. All of our success came from him. He taught us everything that we know. He’s a great coach.”