Gophers softball wins NCAA Regional Championship, will host LSU in Super Regionals

University of Minnesota softball coach Jamie Trachsel had to get creative on Sunday while conditions outside at Jane Sage Cowles Staidum were cold and soggy.

The Minneapolis Regional got delayed twice, and eventually postponed until Monday. So what did Trachsel do to keep her Gophers busy? They watched Rocky IV. Perhaps it was fitting, because Minnesota threw the first punch Monday against Georgia in an 8-1 win over the Bulldogs to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals.

It’s Minnesota’s first trip to that stage since 2014. It’ll be the Gophers’ first time hosting a Super Regional in the history of the program.

Gophers’ ace Amber Fiser had a 3-0 lead before she even took the mound. Three batters into the game, Natalie Denhartog hit a three-run blast off the scoreboard in right center, and the stadium of more than 1,200 was rocking. Denhartog said the Gophers’ offense was due after needing a game-tying single from Makenna Partain and a walk-off homer from Hope Brandner Saturday night to hand Georgia its first loss.

“In warm-ups the vibe was a little bit nervous but our left fielder, Carlie Brandt, came up to me and said ‘No matter what happens we’ve got your back,’” Denhartog said. “So just going up there free and in that at bat felt like I was seeing it well. She gave me one I could hit and I just swung away.”

Minnesota (44-12) also needed to scratch out three runs Friday night to hold off North Dakota State. But the Gophers didn’t waste much time Monday, scoring seven runs in the first three innings.

It was more than enough for Fiser, who tossed a complete game. She allowed just one run while scattering five hits and striking out seven. The game ended, fittingly, with Fiser’s 328th strikeout of the season. She improved to 29-7 on the year.

“I’ve worked my whole life to get to where I am today. But I wouldn’t be able to do that without the team I have behind me,” Fiser said. “The offense, you saw it today, they were on fire. Just putting that 3-0 lead up, it’s huge.”

It completes a weekend where Fiser allowed just two runs over three games. She shutout North Dakota State Friday night while allowing just three hits and striking out 12.

Fiser allowed two hits, struck out eight and walked three in Saturday night’s win over Georgia. The only run she allowed was a solo homer to center from Jordan Doggett.

With that early lead after Denhartog’s 17th homer of the season, Fiser took control on the mound Monday. She tossed 4 1/3 shutout innings before Georgia scored on a 1-out single in the bottom of the fifth.

“You’re at a loss for words. She’s just gutsy, she’s a fighter and she’s just good,” Trachsel said. “For her to finish the game and this weekend and the championship on the mound, it’s how it was supposed to be. She’s been the horse that we’ve ridden all year and every time she’s had the ball, she’s given us a chance to win.”

Minnesota blew the game open with four runs in the third inning. Brandner walked and Denhartog doubled to the fence in left center. Allie Arneson singled to score Brander for a 4-0 lead, and Anne Miller delivered a pinch hit, two-run single that scored Katelyn Kemmetmueller and Denhartog for a 6-0 lead.

The final run of the inning scored after Ali Lindner got caught in a rundown between second and third, and Arneson scored before Lindner was tagged out to end the inning. Minnesota was up 7-0.

Extending their season to the Super Regionals had become a reality.

“It’s everything. It’s this whole team’s dream, it’s this whole program’s dream,” Denhartog said. “Just what we’ve accomplished this season and what we’re ready to do next week and the rest of this season, it’s just huge for this program and we’re happy to do it together with the personnel that we have.”

Minnesota will host LSU for the Super Regional, needing to win two out of three games to advance to the Women’s College World Series. Games will be played Friday-Sunday, with times to be announced.

As Trachsel put it, the Gophers are two games away from their dream.

“The softball world was paying attention to Minnesota today and it we handled it really well and we came out on top,” Trachsel said. “We have a poster and it says ‘Dream big, why not us?’ and how fitting is that?”