The Minnesota Golden Gophers softball team is one win away from their first ever berth in the NCAA College World Series after a 5-3 NCAA Super Regional Game One win over LSU. Amber Fiser threw a career high 147 pitches in picking up her 30th win of the season. Maddie Houlihan was the offensive hero going 2-3 with a home run, a double, two RBI and two runs scored.
Both teams were able to put runners on base in the early innings, but could not find a way to get them home. Abnormal sloppiness on the Gophers part let LSU take an early 1-0 lead in the third inning. Aliyah Andrews led off by getting hit by a Fiser pitch. Minnesota protested as it appeared Andrews both was nearly out of the batters box when she was hit, and it looked like it hit the end of her bat and was a foul ball, but the home plate umpire ruled it hit her forearm and gave her first base. Andrews is one of if not the best base stealer in the country, and she made the Gophers pay right away as she stole second base. Fiser got the next two outs and then appeared to have struck out Shemiah Sanchez to end the inning but the ball got past Minnesota catcher Emma Burns. Instead of just holding the ball, Burns made a throw to first to try and retire Sanchez but the throw was offline and bounced away from Minnesota first baseman Hope Brandner allowing Andrews to score all the way from second base.
The Gophers answered in the bottom of the third inning when Houlihan ripped the first pitch she saw over the fence in left-center field to tie the game at one. Minnesota added a walk and another hit to get two players on base for the third consecutive inning, but for the third consecutive inning they were left on base.
LSU came right back in the top of the fourth when Amber Serrett took Fiser deep over the scoreboard in right center field to put the Tigers back on top 2-1. A double split a strikeout and a groundout before Amanda Sanchez singled to score the Tigers third run of the game. They took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning.
Just like in the third inning of the regional clincher against Georgia, Minnesota would find their stroke in the bottom of the fourth inning and would chase a starting pitcher. Minnesota would do all their damage with two outs as well. Ali Lindner flew out, Carlie Brandt singled and was forced out at second on a Makenna Partain fielders choice. Two outs and a runner on first base with Houlihan back at the plate and she stayed hot. She ripped the ball off the base of the wall in center field for a double and then advanced to third base when the throw home to try and nab Partain at the plate went off target. Partain would score her 66th run of the season giving her sole possession of the Minnesota single-season total runs record. After Brandner walk it was NFCA freshman of the Year Finalist Natalie DenHartog’s turn to make some noise. She ploped a single into right field to score Houlihan and tie the game at three. After another walk to load the bases it was senior shortstop Allie Arneson’s turn for the big hit. She singled into right field to score two runs and put the Gophers ahead for good 5-3. LSU pulled starting pitcher Shelbi Sunseri and put in Maribeth Gorsuch. Gorsuch got Burns to ground out to end the inning, but not before Minnesota had completely turned the game around.
LSU would get one runner on base via a single in both the fifth and sixth inning, but Fiser took care of business and let her defense do the work. LSU would threaten in the top of the seventh inning. Fiser got Sunseri to ground out to start the inning before Sanchez singled. After a flyout for the second out Stewart singled to put the tying run on first base with two outs. Though Fiser had thrown more pitches then she ever had in her career, she bore down and got Serrett to fly out to center field to end the game and give Minnesota it’s biggest win in program history. Until tomorrow or Sunday at least.
Fiser did not have her best stuff, but she pitched good enough for the Gophers to get the win. LSU was good at working the count and making Fiser’s pitch count rise. her 147 pitches broke her previous personal high of 140 for her career. She gave up eight hits, three runs, but only two earned runs and struck out seven batters to get her 30th win on the season. That total now places her in 5th place all time in a single season in program history. One more win would tie her with Sara Groenewegen for second all time with 31 wins.
The question for Minnesota will be do you bring Fiser back to start Game Two immediately tomorrow after throwing a career high in pitches, or will you see former LSU Tiger Sydney Smith in the circle to start the game for Minnesota with Fiser ready to come into the game in relief if needed.
Minnesota needs to win only one of the next two games over LSU to advance, and has the statistics in their favor. Teams that win Game one of the Super Regional advance to the College World Series 79% of the time. The Gophers hope that trend continues.
Game two will start at 5PM Saturday and will air on ESPN2. A Minnesota win and they advance to the NCAA College World Series in Oklahoma City next weekend. A LSU win and the teams will play a game three at 3PM Sunday on ESPN.