Gophers softball coach Jamie Trachsel knew it would be a fight to win the NCAA regional.
So she prepared her team for a knockdown, drag-out battle the best way she knew how: By sitting her players down to watch one of her favorite movies, “Rocky IV,” of course.
Sunday’s two rain delays and eventual postponement allowed for the impromptu movie session. And while Monday’s rematch with Georgia wasn’t quite an Ivan Drago-Rocky Balboa bout amid Cold War-era tension, there were still plenty of heavy hits.
The Gophers stacked up a convincing 8-1 victory before an announced crowd of 1,256 at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, advancing to just the second super regional in program history and first since 2014.
The No. 7 seed Gophers (44-12) will be a super regional host for the first time, when No. 10 seed Louisiana State (43-17) visits for a best-of-three series this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (if needed), with the with the winner advancing to the College World Series in Oklahoma City.
“It’s the whole program’s dream,” freshman Natalie 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.”
The Gophers offense wasn’t quite as dominant as usual this regional, tallying 10 hits and five runs in the previous two games. But DenHartog remedied that right away, smacking a three-run homer in the first inning.
“I was due,” DenHartog said. “And frankly, our whole offense was due.”
A four-run third inning, plus one more score in the sixth, helped the Gophers finish with six hits and eight runs.
DenHartog said she felt her team was seeing the ball well but just not squaring up pitches before Monday. That changed, helping the offense give some much-deserved cushion for junior pitcher Amber Fiser. Though she didn’t really appear to need it.
Fiser struck out seven over seven innings, holding the Bulldogs to five hits. Their lone run came in the fifth, after Minnesota had opened a 7-0 lead. Throughout the whole regional, she allowed only two runs.
Trachsel said she was at a loss for words to describe how good Fiser is and how she can be a difference-maker even when she’s not having her best outing.
“For her to finish the game and this weekend with a championship with her on the mound, [it’s] like it’s how it’s supposed to be,” Trachsel said. “Because she’s been the horse that we’ve ridden all year.”
Monday’s game ended with one of Fiser’s strikeouts, before she ran into the arms of catcher Emma Burns as the rest of the team mobbed them.
“For a second I just kind of paused, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, did that really happen?’ And then I saw Emma running at me,” Fiser said. “Just celebrated. It was a lot of fun.”
And if the boxing film wasn’t inspiring, it at least helped broaden the players’ film repertoires. Like Fiser, for example, who is a big fan of the recent “Creed” franchise but not so much of the original.
“It was cool to see,” she said. “Everyone talks about all the ‘Rocky’ movies all the time, so it was nice to finally see one.”