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Historic Start for Johnson Leads Roaring Offense to 5-0 Start

Rookie catcher launches homers in first two at-bats and never looks back

NCAA SOFTBALL: MAY 22 Playoff Regional - Michigan v Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

True freshman C/1B Olivia Johnson blasted three homers and was intentionally walked five times before ever recording a single collegiate out on her way to earning national player of the week, powering 7th-ranked Husky softball to an impressive 5-0 opening weekend in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

UW 12, Lamar 2 (5 inn.)

UW 8, LBSU 3

UW 8, #8 Arkansas 0 (6 inn.)

UW 9, Rutgers 0 (5 inn.)

UW 10, #8 Arkansas 5

Johnson’s spectacular start to her career is unquestionably the best in UW history. Her final line: 7/10 (.700), 3 HR, 3B, 8 RBI, 5 R, 7 BB (5 IBB). She’s the first UW freshman to win NFCA player of the week since Jaime Clark did it way back in 2000.

Gabbie Plain earned her eighth career Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honor after tossing 13 scoreless innings, including shutouts of Arkansas (first game) and Rutgers. She fanned 17 and allowed just one extra-base hit, although that took a special display of athleticism by her teammate.

As evidenced by the 47 total runs the Huskies scored, it was far from just Johnson who had an instant impact. Fellow true freshman IF Kinsey Fiedler went 5-for-10 with two homers and two doubles while also drawing four walks in a performance that very well may have earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors if not for her teammate. Senior LF Sami Reynolds hit .571 with doubles in all five games and added a homer for good measure.

Senior RF Madi Huskey had perhaps the best stretch of her career as well, posting an excellent .471/.474/.765 slash line with a team-best 10 RBI and zero strikeouts. She could have had 2 HR & 12 RBI if not for her potential game-tying two-run homer in the finale vs Arkansas getting taken away by Razorbacks LF Hannah McEwen in the top of the fifth.

The Huskies would get their revenge on McEwen later. After flipping that 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 lead with a 6-run sixth (Baylee Klingler grand slam, Kinsey Fiedler 2-run homer), a leadoff walk to KB Sides brought in Plain from the bullpen to replace Sarah Willis, who had recorded some key outs but was clearly overthrowing a little bit. To keep her bat in the lineup, Willis was moved to center field for the first time in her career. McEwen punished a 1-2 rise ball from Plain that didn’t get high enough to dead center that seemed sure to cut the lead in half.

So naturally, Sarah Willis’ first collegiate action in center field was robbing a homer from the player who just robbed her teammate less than two innings ago, all while helping keep her own ERA down, as she was still responsible for Sides at second (Sides would later score, however).

Pitchers playing outfield when not in the circle isn’t new (although first base is much more common – both UW players to play 1B on opening weekend are also pitchers in juniors Kelley Lynch and Brooke Nelson). But when they do, it’s usually right field (or maybe left, but not center), and they’re either A) average or worse defensively, and/or B) known for their strong arm, but not anything else.

The five intentional walks of Johnson are just bonkers (you may be cowards, Rutgers, but you still make some negative history). It’s been six years since UW even received five intentional walks AS A TEAM, *in a season*

Intentional walks received by all UW hitters combined in each of the past eight seasons:

2021: four (Klingler 2, Morganne Flores 2)

2020*: two (Flores 2)

2019: three (Flores 2, Sis Bates)

2018: one (Julia DePonte)

2017: two (Ali Aguilar 2)

2016: five (Aguilar 4, Casey Stangel)

2015: one (Courtney Gano)

2014: one (Kaitlin Inglesby)

*2020 season only 25 games long due to COVID-19. All other seasons in this span have at least 54 games played.

The Huskies scored at least eight runs in each of their five games, despite two of them coming against the defending SEC co-champs and preseason #8. The last time UW managed to score 8+ runs five games in a row at any point was almost four years ago in the first couple weeks of the 2018 season, but that stretch didn’t have a single foe close to the talent level that Arkansas has.

The 2019 Huskies – who ended up in the national semifinals at the WCWS, mind you – didn’t record their fifth game of 8+ runs scored until March 10. One of the those five took extra innings to get 8 runs, so their fifth game of 8+ runs scored in seven innings wasn’t until a 14-2 drubbing of Oregon on March 24 in game #30 of the season.

Weekend Schedule (times PT, opponent records current through Thu, 2/17)

All games at Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater, Fla.

Fri, 9:30am, SEC Network: #18 Tennessee (5-1)

Fri, 4pm, ESPN+: #21 LSU (4-2)

Sat, 11:30 a.m., ESPN+: Texas Tech (3-3)

Sat, 3 p.m., ESPN+: #7 Oklahoma State (4-1)

Sun, 7 a.m., ESPNU: #15 Clemson (4-1)