MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The University of Minnesota softball team gave UCLA a good battle at the College World Series on Thursday, but the Bruins pulled away late in a 7-2 win over the Gophers.
With a 3-2 lead, UCLA scored four runs in the sixth inning on a MaKenna Partain error and a three-run homer from Aaliyah Jordan deep into the bleachers in right to blow the game open with a 7-2 lead. Amber Fiser, who pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowed seven runs on eight hits with a career-high six walks.
In its first College World Series appearance, the Gophers were facing a program that has won 12 College World Series and is making its 29th appearance. It truly was a David vs. Goliath match-up.
The loss snapped a five-game win streak for the Gophers. They hadn’t lost since falling to Michigan 3-2 on May 11 in the Big Ten Tournament title game.
“I'm proud of how we fought. We haven't felt a loss like this for a while. We haven't lost for a while. UCLA was going to make us beat them, and we couldn't,” Gophers coach Jamie Trachsel said.
Minnesota’s season is not over, however. The tournament is double elimination, and the Gophers will face Washington at 11 a.m. Saturday with their season on the line. The Huskies eliminated Minnesota from the NCAA Tournament last season in the Seattle Regional.
Washington lost to Arizona 3-1 in eight innings before the Gophers faced UCLA.
Thursday, UCLA got out to an early 3-0 with runs in each of the first three innings. Bubba Nickles led off the game for the Bruins with a solo homer to left off Fiser. It was her 17th of the season, and UCLA is 28-2 this season when scoring in the first inning.
It didn’t rattle Fiser, who kept the Gophers in the game until the sixth inning.
“Honestly, it kind of got the nerves away. I'm like, All right, that's fine. I was surprised she hit it. Props to her,” Fiser said. “She hit a pitch out that I didn't think she could. I mean, I had to go attack the hitters right after her.”
UCLA then manufactured a run in the second inning with a pair of singles, a walk and scored on a bases loaded walk. The Bruins got a run in the third after a walk, a single and a Taylor Pack sacrifice fly to center.
UCLA pitcher Rachel Garcia struck out five Minnesota batters the first time through the order. Partain got the Gophers’ first hit of the College World Series on a single to left center in the third.
Minnesota scored both of its runs in the top of the sixth. Maddie Houlihan led off the inning with a single to right. She scored on Natalie Denhartog’s double off the left field wall. She scored on Allie Arneson’s single to left center to cut the Gophers’ deficit to 3-2, but Arneson was thrown out trying to advance to second on the play.
Minnesota managed four hits off Garcia, the National Player of the Year.
Denhartog leads the Gophers with 64 RBI this season.
“We saw Garcia well. At the end of the day, you have to tip your hat. We just didn't see her well enough. I never thought there was a moment where we didn't have a chance or we weren't in it,” Denhartog said.
Fiser was removed from the game after the Bruins scored four in the sixth to seal the win. She threw 114 pitches and had thrown 41 2/3 straight innings, including 36 straight innings in the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota (46-13) needs to beat Washington on Saturday to extend its season. The journey that the Gophers have embraced all year to get to the NCAA Tournament and the College World Series would end with a loss Saturday.
“We're a family. We're going to stick together. We're going to come out on Saturday fighting because we don't want our story to end,” Trachsel said.