The Minnesota Golden Gophers softball team took care of business before the rain wiped out a day and a half of play at the Minneapolis Regional this weekend. The Gophers won their first two games to advance to the Regional Final and now just need one win in two potential games Monday afternoon to advance to their first home NCAA Super Regional in program history. Minnesota will take on either Drake or Georgia at Noon on Monday for a chance to create history.
The Gophers opened up regional play against North Dakota State on Friday night. The game started about an hour late due to it taking extra innings and a walk-off home run for Georgia to win the battle of the Bulldogs on Friday evening. Whether the delay took the Gophers slightly off their game or it was just early NCAA Tournament jitters, the Gophers were not at their best. But it was still good enough to get a 3-0 win and advance to the winners bracket.
As has been the M.O for most of the Gopher season, Amber Fiser took care of business. The junior ace threw a complete game shutout allowing just three hits and striking out 12 Bison batters. With her in the circle the Gophers don’t need much offense, and they didn’t seem to have much Friday night.
The Gophers were aided by several Bison mistakes. Minnesota went up 1-0 in the second inning after Katelyn Kemmetmueller was hit by a pitch. She advanced to second base on an Allie Arneson single, and then took advantage of a NDSU error to take third base. She then would score on a passed ball with Ali Lindner at the plate to give Minnesota an early lead.
Fiser remained nearly untouchable. NDSU could string nothing together and the game remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth. Carlie Brandt led off with the single, and then Makenna Partain also singled. But, Partain was then caught off of first base after she took the slightest step towards second on a bad throw. Brandt advanced to third on the poor throw with one out. That would be key as she would then score on a sacrifice fly by Maddie Houlihan in the next at bat to make it 2-0 Gophers. The Gophers would add one more in the sixth when the loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a single. Hope Brander also walked with the bases loaded scoring Brandt and making it 3-0 Minnesota.
The Bison would get the tying run up to the plate in the top of the seventh after an error and a dropped third strike, but Fiser would strike out the last batter to close out the win.
The Gophers advanced to take on Georgia in the winners bracket Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs had defeated Drake 6-4 on Friday after hitting a game-typing home run in the bottom of the seventh inning and then a walk-off two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth.
Minnesota would once again send Fiser to the circle. Once again she was nearly flawless. It was a pitchers duel between Fiser and Mary Wilson Avant of Georgia. Fiser was nearly perfect through five innings allowing just one walk and no hits. But Georgia finally got to her in the top of the sixth inning. The ninth batter in the lineup Jordan Doggett got a hold of a Fiser pitch and hit it over the fence for just her second home run of the season to give Georgia a 1-0 lead. It looked like that might be enough as Avant did not allow a hit after the second inning and seemed to be on a roll for the Bulldogs.
Minnesota came up in the bottom of the seventh inning trying not to waste a masterful Fiser performance that was very reminiscent of what the Gophers did against Alabama in the regionals two years ago. But this time, things would be different. After an Arneson strikeout, Ali Lindner walked to give the Gophers the tying runner on base. Taylor Chell pinch hit for Brandt and she was hit by a pitch putting runners on first and second with one out. Partain was next up for the Gophers, and the junior delivered ripping a hard line shot right back up the middle past Avant into center. Lindner would head for home and score relatively easily to tie the game at one. Brandt was caught off of second base on the cutoff for the second out, and Houlihan then struck out to end the Gopher threat. But they had tied the game at one and sent it to extra innings.
Fiser pitched around a single in the top of the eighth and got Minnesota back to hit. Brandner led off the inning for the Gophers. The sophomore transfer from Oregon State led the Gophers with 18 home runs coming into the weekend, and on a 1-1 pitch, her 19th will be very very memorable.
Minnesota walked off a 2-1 winner and advanced to the Region Final that was to originally be played Sunday afternoon.
About that. The forecasted weekend rains came late Saturday and threw a wrench in those plans. After the MN/Georgia game Drake defeated NDSU to eliminate the Bison, and then played Georgia immediately after in another elimination game. Except...they couldn’t quite get it in. The game was suspended in the top of the fifth inning with Georgia leading 4-2. But then Sunday’s entire slate of games was wiped out due to the rain.
So, everything was pushed to Monday. Drake and Georgia will resume their game at 10AM in tie fifth inning. The loser will be eliminated, and the winner will take on the Gophers at Noon. If Minnesota wins, they advance to the Super Regionals. If they lose, the two teams will play once again at 3:30 with everything on the line.
Minnesota would love to see a comeback by Drake. With a fully rested Fiser, the Gophers will be tough to beat, but Georgia has a bit more offensive fire power than Drake does. They also have a deeper pitching staff. Drake has an amazing starter, but not much behind her. While Georgia has four pitchers who threw regularly in SEC play.
In either case the Gophers will try and join fourteen other teams who have qualified for the Super Regionals. Along with Minnesota, the Michigan Wolverines will try and advance Monday as their games on Sunday were postponed by weather. The Wolverines will take on James Madison who they defeated 1-0 on Saturday.
The Gophers and Wolverines will try and join Northwestern who advanced to their first ever Super Regional by defeating Louisville late Sunday. In fact all fourteen ranked and host teams have qualified for the Super Regionals thus far. That includes #10 seed LSU who eliminated Texas Tech to advance from their regional. They will take on the winner of Minneapolis regional next weekend in a best-of-three series. If the Gophers win it will be in Minneapolis, if anyone else wins in will be in Baton Rouge.
So take a long lunch and turn on ESPNU at noon to try and watch the Gophers make history and advance to their first home Super Regional in school history!