"Our stats almost mirror each other. It's almost like playing yourself a little bit."
Those were the words of Gopher head coach Jamie Trachsel earlier this week. They proved to be true on Friday night. The Gophers got a taste of their own medicine as dominant pitching and opportunistic offense by Northwestern lifted them to victory, eliminating the Gophers from contention for the Big Ten regular season crown.
In front of a sold-out crowd, the No. 13 Gophers (37-11, 18-2) dropped the first game of their pivotal three-game series against the No. 19 Wildcats (42-7, 21-0), 1-0.
An eight-pitch at-bat against Nikki Cuchran in the seventh inning proved pivotal. Junior pitcher Amber Fiser was up 0-2 in the count before throwing what she thought was the strikeout pitch. Home plate umpire Erin Peterson disagreed, much to the chagrin of Fiser, the coaching staff and the fans. Five pitches later Cuchran put the go-ahead runner on third with a double.
"It was in [the zone], I mean it looked like it was in," Trachsel said. "It looked good to us but she didn't call it."
A wild pitch to the next batter, Jordyn Rudd, broke the scoreless affair, putting Northwestern up 1-0. Fiser struck out Rudd, which was the last batter before the game was stopped for a rain delay.
Both Trachsel and Fiser agreed that the missed call didn't affect the next at-bat.
"I don't think so," Fiser said. "I can only control what the umpires going to give me. I had to get over it, go to the next batter. She got a hit, she got lucky."
The Gophers' fortunes didn't change after the 93-minute rain delay as they were shut down in the seventh inning.
The loss will sting the Gophers as it knocks them out of a chance to win the Big Ten regular season crown. Minnesota needed to sweep the Wildcats and get a loss from the second-place Michigan Wolverines to climb to the top of the standings.
Fiser, the recipient of three-straight Big Ten Pitcher of the Week awards, pitched well until the seventh inning. She finished with 10 strikeouts, allowing two hits and one run pitching the entire game.
Northwestern starting pitcher Danielle Williams pitched through the rain delay and completed the complete game shutout. Williams struck out 13, giving up one hit and two walks.
"She's done this consistently, she's got good speed. She can throw up and down in the zone. She's got a deceptive changeup that's hard to pick up," Trachsel said. "We haven't seen a lefty for a long time too and that's something that can be an advantage."
Hope Brandner finished with the only hit for the Gophers, a single up the middle in the fourth inning.
The game was highlighted by strong defensive plays by the Gophers. Left fielder Carlie Brandt made an improbable diving catch to get the first out of the fifth inning. The grab persevered Fiser's no-hit bid at the time. However, the very next batter, Morgan Newport broke up the no-hitter with a bloop single to shallow right field.
The Gophers will hit the field again on May 4 at 3 p.m. for game two against Northwestern.