With the Hawks softball team on their way to the final four of the state tournament Saturday for the first time in program history, I figured I’d inform everyone that this is no accident.

From the moment I met coach Mike Johnston, I could infer that he had a great mind for sports by the way he articulated his answers to me when being interviewed.

The way he could just talk strategy and quote great coaches like Bobby Knight and Nick Saban on command was impressive.

I was talking about coach Johnston aloud one day in the office when my boss, executive editor of The Leader Shawn Vargo, told me something that I would never forget.

“Never underestimate a Mike Johnston-coached team.”

I kind of shrugged it off, because Vargo says a lot of things about a lot of people.

The first time I really saw this was in football, when I saw coach Johnston directing the offense for the Section IV juggernaut Elmira Express.

The Express rarely punt the ball. I don’t know if this is solely on coach Johnston or is a collaborative effort between him and head coach Jim McCaulley, who is a great coach in his own right.

It’s the unorthodox moves of never punting while deploying a run-heavy offense that makes Johnston an interesting coach.

You don’t think that an offense like this can work, but it does.

It’s the kind of coaching where they seem to say, “I really don’t care if the sport of football is transitioning to a more aerial attack, we’re going to do what we do -- and beat you anyway.”

Johnston is the type of coach that will stick to his gameplan, because he has trust in his players to execute. He believes, and rightfully so, that his preparation will get him to where he wants to go despite the odds potentially being stacked against him.

Transition to softball.

I, like most people, think the team’s best hitter should hit cleanup or third to have the best chance of driving in runs.

But to conform and to be ‘normal’ isn’t coach Johnston’s style.

He has always told me that he puts his best hitter as the leadoff because “it gives you the best chance to score runs.”

And it’s paid off.

Corning has been excellent at scoring runs in the first inning this season, with first-inning runs in 13 of 22 games.

Johnston's mixing of bunts and moving runners can be, by his own admission, tough to watch, but it works.

It’s this type of play that, even when the outlook looks bleak, shows that coach Johnston will find a way to outthink his opponents.

He puts so much time into preparation with his teams that he trusts his players to come through in any wacky scenario that he plays out in his mind, even if it might look ridiculous to a casual fan.

Take last year for example, when the Hawks softball team blew a lead to Horseheads in the sectional finals, on a Friday, and were back at it the next Monday practicing.

Johnston was there with them. He doesn’t have to do that. His paycheck to coach softball doesn’t last 12 months, it lasts the season. His players buy in to what he says because he’s always willing to put the work in with them.

This season a team with only three seniors, coached by Johnston, has made the state final four. For the first time in Corning softball history. Let that sink in.

While he’ll never give credit to himself, I definitely will. Johnston is one of the most underrated coaches and has one of the best coaching minds at the high school level that I’ve ever seen.

So if you believe that going up against a 19-4 former state champion East Meadow team will be too much for this younger squad, I would point you to what Vargo told me about Johnston back in the day.

“Never underestimate a Johnston-coached team.”

Because they might surprise you.

By the way -- a shameless plug. Follow @TheLeaderPass on Twitter for updates of the state semifinal starting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday against East Meadow in Glens Falls.