UCLA defeats Minnesota to put Gophers’ season on the line

The Gophers lost 7-2 and will play Washington at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

Hope Brandner stands on base during the Women's College World Series on May 30.

Hope Brandner stands on base during the Women’s College World Series on May 30.

Erik Nelson

After allowing only five combined runs in the Regional and Super Regional, Gophers pitcher Amber Fiser couldn’t contain one of the favorites to win the Women’s College World Series.

No. 2 UCLA (52-6) defeated No. 7 Minnesota (46-13) 7-2 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was Minnesota’s first NCAA Women’s College World Series game in program history. Fiser allowed seven runs for the first time since Feb. 23.

“We didn’t do a great job at [getting key outs],” Minnesota head coach Jamie Trachsel said. “Especially in those first three innings, they got their leadoff on each inning. They made us pay for it. We haven’t felt a loss like this in a while.”

The Bruins came out strong, scoring a run in each of the first three innings.

Bruins center fielder Bubba Nickles gave UCLA its first run with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning. It was Nickles’ 17th home run of the season.

“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Nickles said. “It worked out to make us get ahead. I’m happy with that outcome.”

It took the Gophers until the sixth inning to close the gap. Right fielder Maddie Houlihan singled to lead off the sixth inning, and designated player Natalie DenHartog hit her 17th double of the season to get the Gophers on the board. Later in the inning, shortstop Allie Arneson singled in DenHartog, cutting the lead to 3-2. That was as close as Minnesota would get.

Second baseman MaKenna Partain said Minnesota’s sixth inning gave the Gophers a boost for their next game. 

“We belong here,” Partain said. “There’s no doubt about that. We competed with the best pitcher in the nation. It gives you that extra boost of confidence. It’s good for us to thrive off of that. That’s encouraging for us.”

Bruins right fielder Aaliyah Jordan extended the Bruins’ lead to 7-2 with a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning. It was Jordan’s 11th home run of the season.

Bruins pitcher Rachel Garcia won her 25th game of the season. Garcia pitched all seven innings, striking out seven Gophers and allowing four hits.

Fiser threw 5 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs, eight hits and six walks. She struck out six. This was her first loss since May 11. Pitcher Sydney Smith relieved Fiser in the sixth and recorded the final out. It was Smith’s first appearance since May 11.

Minnesota will face No. 3 Washington (50-8) on Saturday at 11 a.m. The Gophers must defeat the Huskies or they will be eliminated. If the Gophers beat Washington, they will face either UCLA or No. 6 Arizona (48-12) on Saturday at 6 p.m.

“This team is scrappy,” DenHartog said. “No one wants their season to end. We’re going to fight until its over.”