Softball Preview: Gophers fighting for their postseason lives against Washington

The Gophers lost 5-2 to the Huskies in the 2018 Regionals.

Junior Hope Brandner takes a swing at bat on Wednesday, May 29.

Daily File Photo

Junior Hope Brandner takes a swing at bat on Wednesday, May 29.

Erik Nelson

The mood was light at the Gophers’ practice at Ann Lacy Stadium in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Friday. Yet the team is serious when it comes to extending its season.

No. 7 Minnesota (46-13) will face No. 3 Washington (50-8) Saturday at 11 a.m. in the elimination bracket of the Women’s College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. The Gophers must win tomorrow or their season will come to an end.

Right fielder Maddie Houlihan believes it’s comforting that Minnesota didn’t play their best yesterday against UCLA.

“You can learn a lot from a game like that,” Houlihan said. “Washington’s a familiar opponent in years past. We’re comfortable going against them. They’re going to be a tough opponent. We learned a lot from yesterday and you have to have a good attitude going into the next game.”

The Huskies ended Minnesota’s season a year ago. Washington defeated the Gophers 5-2 on May 20 last year in the championship game of the Seattle Regional.

Last season, Minnesota was 5-1 when facing elimination in both the Big Ten postseason and the NCAA postseason. The Gophers’ only blemish in an elimination game last season came against the Huskies. This season, the Gophers are 2-1 in elimination games.

Head coach Jamie Trachsel said Minnesota will need timely hitting, quality pitching and a sound defense in order to beat Washington.

“They have two No. 1 pitchers,” Trachsel said. “They have a great defense. Their shortstop [Sis Bates] will steal a hit at one point in the game. That is their strength. We’ve got to make sure that we’re disciplined and have quality at-bats.”

The Huskies’ pitching staff is led by Taran Alvelo and Gabbie Plain. Alvelo is 25-5 with a 1.60 ERA and 279 strikeouts. Plain is 23-2 with an ERA of 1.14 and 229 strikeouts.

Offensively, Washington can rely on production from Bates and catcher Morganne Flores. Bates has a .385 batting average and 29 RBIs. Flores leads the Huskies with 22 home runs and 60 RBIs.

Gophers pitcher Amber Fiser will likely get the start against Washington. Fiser is 7-2 this season in games following a loss.

Shortstop Allie Arneson said Minnesota doesn’t want a repeat of last season tomorrow against the Huskies.

“We can’t let the nerves get to us,” Arneson said. “Yesterday, the nerves got to us in the beginning. If we play like we know how and we stay within ourselves and play for each other … we’ll be O.K.”

If Minnesota loses tomorrow, it will be the last game for Minnesota’s four seniors: Arneson, Houlihan, outfielder Taylor Chell and pitcher Sydney Smith. If Minnesota wins, the Gophers will face either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State on Saturday at 6 p.m. with an opportunity to go to the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series.

Thirty-three of the 36 Women’s College World Series champions have won their first game. In 2018, Florida State won the national championship after losing the first game.

Minnesota is confident it can replicate that success after losing its first game, but it will be a difficult task.

“We have a shot,” Arneson said. “I believe in this team 100 percent. It’s going to be hard, but we have a shot.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Minnesota’s potential match-up if it defeats Washington. The Gophers would face either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.