Johnson's Homer Secures Wisconsin Victory, Perfection For Oklahoma
NORMAN, Okla. -- Taylor Johnson stood in the batter’s box knowing a play needed to be made. Even with her Wisconsin Badgers leading 1-0 in the top of the seventh inning, the sophomore catcher didn’t want to take a chance that the lead would hold up.
So, with two runners on, Johnson crushed a three-run homer over the left field fence to lead UW to a 4-0 win over Notre Dame in the first game of the Norman Regional at Marita Hynes Field.
“I was just kind of like I just had to do my job,” Johnson said. “I was 0-for and she had been getting me out on the same pitch I hit out. The rest is history. It was a surreal moment. I just really love that moment.”
The win pushes the Badgers (41-12) into the winner’s bracket where they will face No. 1 Oklahoma Saturday at 3 p.m. local time.
For Johnson, facing the Sooners is just another opportunity for the Beecher, Il., native to do whatever her team needs to come out with a victory.
“We’ve kind of hand that mentality of next man up,” Johnson said. “With the first two runners getting on, it was like I’m the next man up. I have to kind of take the bat and put it into my own hands. I really wanted to set the tone. I was like we can’t win with one run. That was too close. It just shows we’re kind of next man up mentality.”
However, against the Irish, Taylor had to wait for her moment to come. But that allowed other Badgers to step up as well.
Wisconsin got on the scoreboard first when Caroline Hedgcock laced a single into centerfield off of Payton Tidd to bring home a run.
The Irish (36-17) tried to respond in the third inning when they put two runners on base. However, Ally Miklesh was able to make a throw from centerfield to Johnson at home, who tagged out Emma Clark and preserved the Badger’s 1-0 advantage.
Wisconsin’s Kaitlyn Menz held the Irish in check through five innings. Despite giving up six hits, she kept them from getting across the plate.
But in the bottom of the sixth, Notre Dame started to figure Menz out. They put runners on third and second base with only one out on the board. MK Bonamy laced a line drive that looked like it was going to land in right field. But second baseman Kelly Welsh extended to snag the ball out of the air and got the out.
Menz got the next batter to ground out and end the threat.
That set up Johnson’s homer in the seventh. The homer was Johnson’s 14th of the season, which is second on the Badger’s squad. It was also her 45, 46 and 47th RBIs.
“Taylor is a tough kid to beat the same way multiple times,” Wisconsin coach Yvette Healy said. ”She made the adjustments before they did. She is a clutch kid. To be a sophomore, out there catching, tagging people out and getting it done with her bat. We’re pretty lucky to have her. We have some Midwest toughness going on right there.”
Johnson said she had to figure a few things out in order to come up with the clutch hit.
“In the beginning of the game she was throwing a lot of rise balls,” Johnson said. “I was trying to get my hands on top, and it kept going. The last one was a no-brainer. I had to get my hands on top.”
Notre Dame added two runs in the bottom of the I seventh on a Melissa Rochford single. But that would be all the Irish would get as Menz closed out the game.
Wisconsin now has its eyes set on a squad that hasn’t lost since February.
“We just kind of want to keep the same tone and energy,” Johnson said. “Keeping it high.”
Trio Of Sooners Combine For Perfection
The Sooners did everything expected of the No. 1 team in the nation. They jumped on top of the wide-eyed Retrievers and never let up.
“I’m very pleased with the way things got started,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “I thought UMBC’s pitcher was really good for a freshman coming out. We were trying to figure her out. Took us a little while to do that.”
Oklahoma (50-2) got homers from Caleigh Clifton, Nicole Mendes and Grace Lyons as the team racked up 11 hits on the night. Clifton, Sydney Romero and Falepolima Aviu all scored twice for the Sooners.
Giselle Juarez, Mariah Lopez and Shannon Saile threw the first combined perfect game in program history.
“We had a pitcher’s staff meeting,” Juarez said. “It’s all about each other. It’s not just about one of us, We know we can’t do it alone. It was kind of really exciting because we just had that conversation. It was really cool because we all got to contribute.”
Oklahoma has now won 40 consecutive games and will look to make it 41 when they face the Badgers Saturday.
“We haven’t really talked about our starter for tomorrow, but we have to dive into some things,” Gasso said. “It’s hard to look way ahead when you don’t know who you’re going to get. And we don’t won’t to confuse them. We’re going to get up not too early in the morning and start our work on what’s coming.”