Minnesota's dream of reaching the Women's College World Series for softball came true on Saturday night. After second baseman MaKenna Partain threw the ball to first baseman Hope Brandner to get the final out, a celebration more than 40 years in the making ensued.
No. 7 Minnesota (46-12) defeated Louisiana State University (43-19) 3-0 at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, sweeping the Minneapolis Super Regional two games to zero. The Gophers will make their debut in the NCAA Women's College World Series next week in Oklahoma City, the team's first appearance in a championship tournament since taking third in the 1978 AIAW World Series.
Head coach Jamie Trachsel said she played the Aerosmith song "Dream On" for the team at its first practice last fall. She told the team to dream big. Now, Minnesota is halfway to its first national championship in program history.
"We played that again just the other day before the regional tournament," Trachsel said. "From that song on, we said, 'Why not you guys?' It became our poster. That's how we started our season back in the fall."
Partain said she can't believe the Gophers are headed to Oklahoma City.
"It's a cool thing to dream about," Partain said. "Not many people get this chance."
After neither team could muster a run through four innings, shortstop Allie Arneson opened the scoring for Minnesota with a solo home run in the top of the fifth. It was Arneson's third home run of the season.
"It was a great feeling," Arneson said. "My first at bat she [pitched inside], I was like, 'She's going to do that again.'"
In the top of the seventh, catcher Emma Burns and left fielder Carlie Brandt hit RBI singles to extend Minnesota's lead to three.
After hitting LSU right fielder Elyse Thornhill with a pitch with one out in the bottom of the seventh, pitcher Amber Fiser retired the next two batters to clinch Minnesota's spot in the Women's College World Series.
Fiser won her 31st game of the season. She threw a complete game shutout, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out four.
Fiser's performance on Saturday was much more efficient than during Friday's game. The junior threw 91 pitches on Saturday compared to 147 the day before.
"I'm backwards," Fiser said. "Every weekend, my worst game is on Friday and I pitch stronger as the weekend goes. I know the hitters better."
The NCAA Women's College World Series will be held May 30 - June 5, with the championship series taking place June 3 - 5. The Gophers will open play on Thursday, May 30 against No. 2 UCLA (51-6) at 1:30 p.m. at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
Trachsel said advancing to the Women's College World Series proves Minnesota's critics wrong.
"So many people said we couldn't do it," she said. "When you're overachieving and you keep winning and proving people wrong, it's a great compliment. Us overachieving against all odds [are] making believers out of some of those people, and we're headed to the Women's College World Series."