When senior shortstop Allie Arneson made a fielding error in the first inning, the Gophers escaped without giving up a run. In the third inning when a wild pitch led to a frantic throw to first base from freshman catcher Emma Burns, the Gophers weren’t as lucky.
Coach Jamie Trachsel could tell her team was operating too “high cylinder” to start the game. But senior Maddie Houlihan brought the chill.
“Just knew that if there was a strike going to be thrown, I was going to take my hack,” Houlihan said. “And I sure did.”
The right fielder’s solo homer off the first pitch in the bottom of the third inning nullified LSU’s lead en route to the No. 7 seed Gophers’ 5-3 victory Friday in front of an announced crowd of 1,344, the second-largest ever at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. The Gophers (45-12) secured their first NCAA super regional win and could achieve a trip to the College World Series in a rematch with No. 10 seed LSU (43-18) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re kind of team that, once we get one run, then we’re like, ‘OK, we can do this,’ ” Houlihan said of shifting the momentum. “Being that person who was able to do that for the offense … and being like, ‘You guys, we can crush her.’ ”
It was, in fact, just the next inning before the Gophers chased LSU’s starting pitcher. And while LSU regained and built on its lead at the top of the fourth inning from senior Amber Serrett’s responding home run and senior Amanda Sanchez’s RBI single, Houlihan again started the comeback.
The right fielder’s double — that took her to third after an LSU error — started a four-run fourth inning.
“I just saw our fight and our resiliency and our determination,” Trachsel said. “And I think Maddie led that whole charge, actually. A couple well-hit balls and with the home run.”
Houlihan scored junior MaKenna Partain, who set the Gophers’ single-season runs record, previously set in 1996, at 66. Freshman Natalie DenHartog then added an RBI single, and senior Allie Arneson hit a two-RBI single.
The offensive outburst was paramount, given starting pitcher Amber Fiser struggling a bit in the circle. The junior threw a career-high 147 pitches, allowing eight hits but still managing seven strikeouts and a 1.23 ERA.
Fiser called LSU one of the most aggressive teams she’s faced, forcing her into many 20-pitch at-bats, thanks to foul balls. But the pitcher said she now knows what to expect come Saturday and will be ready to pitch again.
Trachsel termed this one of Fiser’s best mental performances.
“To not have your best stuff and know you’re facing an aggressive offense that’s very capable, and it’s very dynamic,” Trachsel said. “And to stay out there and keep battling and keep fighting, that’s what winners do.”
LSU’s two pitchers fared even worse. Starter Shelbi Sunseri left in the fourth inning after allowing seven hits while Maribeth Gorsuch was called for throwing a several illegal pitches in closing out the game.
Both teams made two errors. But at least according to Houlihan, that’s a motivating statistic. “I think the exciting thing going forward is, we didn’t play our best ball,” she said. “And we still were able to come out with the win.”
NCAA Softball super regional Gophers 5, lsu 3
Gophers lead best-of-three series 1-0 • Game 2: 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)