On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, Gophers first baseman Hope Brandner brightened the days of Minnesota fans at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
No. 7 Minnesota (43-12) defeated Georgia (42-18) 2-1 in eight innings. Brandner hit the game-winning, walk-off home run off of Bulldogs pitcher Mary Wilson Avant. It was her 19th home run of the season.
Brandner said she needed to get on base somehow and knew what Avant was going to throw.
"I decided to sit back on the changeup and drive it through the best that I could and see what I could do with it," Brandner said.
Head coach Jamie Trachsel said Minnesota's victory is hard to describe.
"Our crowd was amazing," Trachsel said. "It helped us win that game. It was a total team effort. We stayed strong. We were resilient, determined and found a way to win. It was the biggest comeback of the year from the sixth inning on. There couldn't be a better time for it."
Heading into the seventh inning, the Gophers were down 1-0 after Georgia designated player Jordan Doggett hit her second home run of the season.
Pitcher Amber Fiser kept Georgia off the board in the seventh inning, then Minnesota started a rally in the bottom half of the seventh. With one out in the inning, center fielder Ali Lindner walked and pinch hitter Taylor Chell was hit by a pitch. Second baseman MaKenna Partain drove a single up the middle to tie the game at one. Lindner scored, but left fielder Carlie Brandt was tagged out at second after getting caught between first and second.
Fiser kept the Bulldogs at bay in the eighth, and on the second pitch in the bottom half of the inning, Brandner smashed the ball over the left center field fence. The Gophers mobbed Brandner at home plate as Minnesota advanced to the Minneapolis regional championship game.
Trachsel said she told the team to stay strong after Georgia took the lead in the sixth inning.
"It's a one-run game, which means we still have a chance," she said. "Fiser did a tremendous job [after the home run]. It was a bit of a blow, but we faced that adversity. We gave ourselves a chance to win in the seventh inning."
Fiser threw her second consecutive complete game. Last night, she threw seven shutout innings in Minnesota's 3-0 victory over North Dakota State. Fiser allowed two hits and one run while striking out eight Bulldogs.
"As long as I get my treatment and do whatever I need to do, take some Ibuprofen, I'll be fine," Fiser said of her workload this weekend.
The Gophers will play in the Minneapolis regional championship game Sunday at 3 p.m. Minnesota will face Georgia or Drake. If the Gophers win, Minnesota will advance to the Super Regionals and will host a Super Regional best-of-three series against the winner of the Baton Rouge regional. If the Gophers lose, then there will be another game Sunday night to determine the winner of the Minneapolis regional.
"These games take a lot out of you," Trachsel said. "We were here late [Friday] night. We're going to take advantage of the position that we're in. We'll get rested and we'll do our treatment and focus on the team that we're playing tomorrow. It's going to be a battle. This isn't over yet, and it's only going to get harder, but we'll be ready."