Johnson saves Gophers, earns Big Ten honors

Michael Rand

In the last two games that Gophers softball pitcher Steph Klaviter has started, Jennifer Johnson has come on in relief to earn the save.
Stress the earn on that.
In two consecutive starts, Klaviter plowed through the early innings before running into trouble. In both instances — Wednesday against Northern Iowa and Saturday against Penn State — Klaviter loaded the bases with no outs before giving way to Johnson.
Against Northern Iowa, Johnson struck out three consecutive batters to escape the inning without allowing any runs.
In Saturday’s game, she was more judicious with her pitches. After inducing the Lions’ Jodie Ricciardi to pop out to left field on the first pitch, Johnson snared Andrea Shebest’s first-pitch line drive and threw to third base for a double play. Two pitches, three outs and no runs.
Still, Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien can think of better ways to hold a team scoreless.
“That’s definitely not the new plan,” she said.
Johnson honored again
In addition to her save in game two of Saturday’s series, Johnson also pitched a complete game shutout in game one and threw three innings of relief in game three to earn the win.
Those impressive outings earned her a second consecutive Big Ten Pitcher of the Week award.
Johnson improved her record to 8-5 on the season and has now won five consecutive decisions. Her save on Saturday was her sixth this season, tying her with Sarah Maschka (1991) for the Gophers single-season record.
Animal Farm
Warning: Any person turned off by bad puns should stop reading immediately.
That said, there was a certain “Wild Kingdom” flavor in the air when Gophers designated player Jennifer Fox faced Penn State pitcher Jennifer Hippo this weekend.
The two squared off three times this weekend — all three times with Hippo working out of the bullpen.
Fox flew out to center field against Hippo in game two of the series. She then popped to first with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning of game three — leaving a trio of ducks on the pond.
But Fox had the last laugh by hitting a game-winning double off of Hippo in the bottom of the seventh inning. Maybe you could say Fox finally out-foxed Hippo. Or maybe you could just forget the whole thing ever happened.
Penn State’s formidable task of scoring runs off the stingy Gophers pitching staff got tougher before the series was 10 minutes old.
Lions third baseman Jen McIntyre, the team’s leading hitter, fouled-tipped a ball off her face in the first inning of game one, sending her to the ground for several minutes.
“Her lip split open,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “It was disgusting.”
McIntyre did not return to the lineup during the weekend and her status is unknown for Penn State’s doubleheader tomorrow against Michigan.
Extra Innings
ù This weekend, Gophers center fielder Rachel Nelson became the seventh player in NCAA softball history to reach 300 career hits.
ù The Gophers, 5-3, moved from a tie for fifth place into sole possession of third place in the Big Ten with their sweep this weekend. Michigan State (10-0) and Iowa (7-0) are ahead of Minnesota.
ù The Gophers held opponents scoreless for a stretch of 31 innings, starting in the fourth inning last Sunday against Indiana and ending in the fourth inning on Sunday against Penn State.