Gophers win NCAA softball regional, will host LSU starting Friday
MINNEAPOLIS — For a brief moment after recording the game-ending strikeout Monday afternoon, Gophers ace Amber Fiser took a second to pause in the circle.
"I was like, 'Oh my gosh. Did that really happen?'" Fiser said.
The junior had just pitched the Gophers past Georgia on May 20 and into a Super Regional for only the second time in program history.
As catcher Emma Burns started to sprint out toward Fiser, the feeling sunk in. The Gophers are two wins from the Women's College World Series.
“It sounds crazy, actually, to say that," Gophers coach Jamie Trachsel said.
It's the reality after Minnesota topped Georgia 8-1 in the Minneapolis Regional title game Monday at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
The regional title is Minnesota's second in school history. The last came in 2014, when Minnesota also hosted a regional.
Minnesota, the No. 7 national seed, will host 10th-seeded LSU in a Super Regional next weekend, with a trip to the Women's College World Series on the line. That best-of-three series is slated to start Friday.
Going into Monday's game, Trachsel said she and the Gophers' coaching staff thought, "Man, we need our offense to win this game."
Minnesota advanced through the winner's bracket over the weekend relying heavily on Fiser's right arm, while the offense largely sputtered. Through the first two games, the Gophers tallied five total runs.
But on Monday, the bats joined the party.
Freshman slugger Natalie DenHartog blasted a three-run homer to right field to make it 3-0, equaling the Gophers' largest offensive output of the weekend.
DenHartog struck again in the third, doubling to left to put two runners on with no outs. Allie Arneson singled in a run later in the inning to make it 4-0 before Anne Miller poked a single into the outfield that scored two more runs. The offense was back, and the rout was on.
"I was due. And frankly our whole offense was due," DenHartog said. "There was definitely some anticipation. We knew we were seeing the ball well. We just weren't really squaring it up. We knew we were due. To just kind of break it open and show what this offense can do felt really great."
The regional title game was pushed back a day to Monday because of the heavy rain fall Sunday. To kill time, Trachsel had her team watch Rocky IV, one of Trachsel's favorite flicks.
“Because we kind of knew we’d be in a fight today," Trachsel said.
But it played out like an early-round knockout.
The performance provides plenty of momentum heading into this weekend. Trachsel noted the regional tournament was a good representation of Minnesota's balance.
Still, the success of this team largely rests on Fiser's shoulders, and she bore the weight once again.
Fiser pitched all 21 innings, surrendering just two runs and 10 hits while striking out 27 batters. On a big stage, the Gophers' ace shined brightest.
"You're at a loss for words," Trachsel said. “She’s just gutsy and she’s a fighter."
For the record, Fiser prefers 'Creed' to 'Rocky.' Either way, she's the Gophers' heavyweight, and the reason Minnesota is the regional champ.
"She's just good. I still don’t really know if she knows how good she is," Trachsel said. "You appreciate someone and what they do for your program when they’ve been able to be such a difference-maker."
Trachsel thought it was fitting for Fiser to be the one in the circle to close out the championship.
"It’s how it was supposed to be, because she’s been the horse that we’ve ridden all year," Trachsel said. "And every time she’s had the ball, she’s given us a chance to win, and this weekend was no different against one of the top teams in the country, and Georgia is one of the top offenses in the country.”
From the outside, it appeared to be a pretty dominant weekend for the Gophers, who won the regional in the minimum of three games, with two of those wins coming by three runs or more.
Still, from Saturday's seventh inning rally that sparked the extra-inning victory over Georgia to the rain delays that followed, this weekend was anything but ordinary.
The same can be said about this team.
"We’ve been a really adaptable team," Trachsel said. "I think all the things that we’ve gone through, and how we’ve addressed them and used them, the experience came to the forefront this weekend. We’ve been adaptable all year. We’ve been resilient and determined, and that’s why we’re playing for another weekend.”