two young girls in purple and white baseball uniforms pose
4 April 2023: Jennifer Peña (left) and Alysha “Big Country” Johnson pose at home plate Credit: Credit: Jimmie Aggison/Houston Defender

At the end of every season, Phillis Wheatley’s head softball coach Paul Richard highlights the best offensive player by granting them the award of batting champion. This year, the race seems to be split between Alysha “Big Country” Johnson and Jennifer Peña, both of whom are on a path of domination.

“Batting champion is based on their stats, the most hits and runs scored,” Richard said.

Johnson’s junior season ended with her walking away with both the batting champion and golden glove award. This year she plans to repeat.

“I’m trying to, for real. I’ve been killing it,” Johnson said. “When I’m up to bat, I just focus and concentrate on hitting the ball.”

Johnson, who also serves as Mrs. Wheatley, began playing softball her sophomore year after receiving advice from her best friend.

“My best friend India Andrews encouraged me to play because she said I had a good arm. I originally started in the outfield because the team had a lot of seniors in the infield. But once they graduated I moved to first base,” Johnson said.

When asked about this year’s competition Richard said, “Johnson is in the hunt, but she’s competing with another senior.”

The other senior he is referring to is Jennifer Peña. Peña began playing softball her junior year. She had ambitions to play before but wasn’t given the opportunity due to COVID-19 and family dynamics.

“We had a lot of struggles growing up, so I didn’t have time to play,” Peña said.

As a kid, when Peña did play, she lived by a park but it didn’t offer softball. This forced her to play baseball before ever knowing what softball consisted of. She credits this early experience for being able to better track the ball while in the batter’s box.

“I was used to seeing the ball come faster, but in softball, the ball comes slower, so it’s easier for me to hit the ball,” Peña said.

Both Johnson and Peña have accomplished a lot this season. Johnson has 34 at-bats, 11 singles and two doubles, which equates to a .382 batting avergage. Peña has 35 at-bats with 14 singles, three doubles and two triples (.542 batting average).

After graduating, both players plan to attend HCC for their basics and then transfer to other universities. Johnson plans to study psychology, while Peña plans to study business and marketing.

“They’re trying to out-hit each other and that’s a positive thing for our team,” Richard said.

About Alysha “Big Country” Johnson

Class: 2023

IG: @a.lyshaaaa_

Position: First base

Height & weight: 5-feet-6, 222 pounds

Player she studies: Mia Davidson (Mississippi State alum)

Status: Houston Community College

Favorite artist: Zydeco

Favorite subject: Economics

Shout-outs: Dad, India Andrews

About Jennifer Peña

Class: 2023

IG: @HTX_Jenny.4

Position: Shortstop

Height & weight: 5-feet-4, 115 pounds

Hobbies: Arts and crafts, volleyball

Status: Houston Community College

Favorite artists: JID, Alicia Keys

Favorite subject: History

Shout-outs: Family

I’m originally from Kansas. I graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in communication studies. Shortly after moving to Houston in 2007, I began doing photography. I covered cy fair sports...