The #7 seed Minnesota Golden Gophers softball team will try and do something that it has never done in school history this weekend when it takes on the #10 seed LSU Tigers in a NCAA Super Regional. Minnesota will be looking for it’s first ever Super Regional win, and if it can win two out of three games, it’s first trip to the College World Series in program history. But it will not be easy.
Minnesota will compete in just its second NCAA Super Regional in program history. In 2014 Minnesota won a home regional before playing the #1 overall seed Oregon and being swept. Minnesota will try and earn its first ever trip to the NCAA College World Series in Oklahoma City. Prior to the NCAA era, the Gopher softball team did have one historic run when they took third place in the 1978 AIAW World Series.
Minnesota advanced to the Super Regional after going 3-0 at home last weekend in the Minneapolis Regional. The Gophers took care of business defeating North Dakota State Bison on Friday before beating Georgia Bulldogs twice, once on Saturday and once on Monday to advance. Amber Fiser was nearly unhittable for the Gophers. With Sunday play being postponed due to rain Fiser was able to pitch in all three games with nearly full rest. It showed as she threw 22 innings allowing just ten hits, two runs and struck out 27 batters. She is now 29-7 on the season with a 1.18 ERA and 338 strikeouts. Minnesota got big offensive performances from several of their players who have starred all season. Hope Brandner hit a walk-off home run against Georgia on Saturday that brought her season total up to 19, one short of the Minnesota single season record. Her 59 RBIs rank 21st in the nation. Natalie DenHartog hit her 17th home run on the season in the first inning of Minnesota’s clinching win over Georgia. Her 62 RBIs on the season rank her 12th in the nation. She also was named one of the three finalists for the NFCA Freshman of the Year Award. Makenna Partain scored her 65th run of the season in Monday’s game which ties her for the school single season record set by Rachel Nelson in 1995. Her .408 batting average leads the Gophers.
One additional reason for the Gophers success has been their record performance in the field. The Gophers currently have a.978 fielding performance which ranks ninth in the country. if the percentage holds, it will set a new single season program record breaking the old record of .975 in 2008.
LSU advanced to the Super Regional last weekend by defeating Monmouth on Friday and then winning two of three games against Texas Tech on Saturday and Sunday to advance.
The Tigers have a record of 43-17 on the season. LSU finished 14-10 in the SEC and tied for second place. They lost their first and only game of the SEC Tournament to Florida 3-0. LSU played four Big Ten teams during the regular season and went 5-1. They defeated Iowa and Michigan twice each, and Ohio State once. They lost to Indiana. LSU also went 3-0 against Georgia in the SEC season with all three games taking place at Georgia. The Tigers have been a very good road team this season going 11-5.
LSU is led offensively by a quartet of players. Aliyah Andrews leads the Tigers with a .367 batting average. Her 60 runs and 73 hits on the season leads the team as well. She is a major threat on the basepaths and is 46-49 on stolen base attempts this season. Amanda Sanchez and Savannah Stewart are both hitting .364 on the season. Sanchez is a power threat as she has nine home runs and 53 RBIs on the season. The team lead in home runs on the Tigers is 17 held by both Shemiah Sanchez and Shelby Sunseri. Sunseri also leads the team with 60 RBIs.
Sunseri is also one of the Tigers best pitchers. She won two games and lost another in the Regional last weekend even throwing all 13 innings in one of the wins against Texas Tech. She has a record of 13-9 and five saves with an ERA of 2.15 and 84 strikeouts in 133.2 innings pitched. The other pitcher who started two games for the Tigers last week was Maribeth Gorsuch. Gorsuch won the clinching game over the Red Raiders to send the Tigers to Minneapolis. She has a record of 13-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 102 innings pitched. The Tigers also may use Shelby Wickersham from the bullpen. Wickersham appeared in two games last weekend out of the pen and on the season is 10-2 with a 2.29 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 98 innings pitched.
LSU strikes in the middle innings. While they have only outscored their opponents by five runs in the first inning, they have outscored their opponents 61-19 in the 2nd, 74-25 in the third, 70-14 in the 4th, and 58-19 in the 5th. The Tigers have been outscored in the 6th and 7th innings.
LSU is 10-9 all-time in Super Regional games and have advanced out of three of their last four. They lost in three games last season to eventual national champion Florida State. The Gophers do have a 2-0 all-time series lead on the Tigers. Both wins came in Baton Rouge one in 2014, the other in 2017.
For Minnesota to advance to the College World Series it will take some of the best pitching they have gotten all season. Fiser has been amazing and will need to be nearly flawless for the Gophers to advance. She will start game 1 on Friday for sure, and what happens from there may depend on Friday’s result. If the Gophers can pick up a win, you may see former LSU pitcher Sydney Smith in the circle to start game two for Minnesota. If the Gophers drop the first game, it’s a near certainty that Fiser will be right back at it for Minnesota. Meanwhile Sunseri will most likely start game one for the Tigers with Gorsuch going in game 2.
All three games this weekend will be on TV. Game 1 will begin at 4PM Friday and will air on ESPN2. Game two will begin at 5PM Saturday and will air on ESPN2. If necessary, game three will begin at 3PM Sunday and will air on ESPN. All of the games will stream on WatchESPN.