The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

May 24, 2013

MSU sophomore is quite a catch

Sophomore has proven to be quite a catch

CARY, N.C. — The secret to Minnesota State’s impressive run to a second straight Division II College World Series isn’t really a secret at all.

It’s pitching. Lots of pitching.

The Mavericks have allowed only seven runs in their eight postseason games so far in sweeping to the NSIC and NCAA regional championships without a loss.

As with most top teams, MSU’s staff features a deep, diverse collection of arms that constantly challenges each other to excel. But there’s also one talented anchor that sets the group apart.

And it’s not Jason Hoppe, who hasn’t allowed a run since April 7, Harvey Martin, the Daktronics Central Region pitcher of the Year, or even reliable closer Mahlon Zimmerman.

It’s catcher Nolan Johnson.

“All of us pitchers owe a lot of our success to him,” said Hoppe, who will draw the starting assignment today when the Mavericks begin their quest for a national championship against Grand Valley State at the USA Baseball Training Complex. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

“He calls a great game back there,” Hoppe said of Johnson. “He’s recognizing what the hitters are doing and giving us what we want to throw.

"The connection you have with your catcher is so huge. When he puts down a changeup on 3-2 and that’s what you want to throw, it gives you confidence that he has confidence in your ability to make the pitch.”

Although Johnson’s skill as a receiver might sometimes get overlooked because of the gaudy stats his pitchers have been piling up, his defensive prowess has hardly gone unnoticed. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound sophomore has thrown out 16 of the 30 runners that have attempted to steal on him this season to earn a spot on the NSIC Gold Glove Team for the second straight year.

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