This isn’t supposed to happen up here in the frozen tundra. Not with winters that bleed drearily into spring, making outdoor activities inadvisable until April, if not later.
College softball’s dominance lies in the South and West and any other place warm enough to venture outside in the spring. The Gophers softball team is forced to spend the first seven weeks — sometimes longer — of each season on the road while its field thaws and the weather says it’s OK to play ball.
Weather disadvantages are real in college softball and baseball and yet …
There were the Gophers down on the field Saturday evening, piling onto each other, then dancing and hugging and screaming happy shouts.
“Minnesota is a place that you can chase your dreams,” Gophers coach Jamie Trachsel said. “We’re living proof of that.”
Yes, they are.
The Gophers softball team is headed to the College World Series.
As unlikely as that might sound, that statement alone doesn’t do justice in explaining its remarkable journey to this historic moment.
Two years ago, the Gophers got snubbed from hosting an NCAA regional. Then their coach left. Then their best player left.
Now, by virtue of a 3-0 win over LSU in a two-game sweep in the super regional, the Gophers are one of eight teams going to Oklahoma City this week to battle for the national title.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Trachsel said.
The Gophers ousted two teams from the SEC, college softball’s power conference — Georgia in the regional, LSU in the super regional — to advance to their first NCAA World Series in program history.
This wasn’t fluke, either. The Gophers are a complete team. A tough, well-rounded, well-coached team.
Ace pitcher Amber Fiser is a bulldog who seems to have a robotic right arm. The offense contributes timely hitting. The defense is rock-solid. And Trachsel has infused an unwavering mentality that enabled her program to ascend even higher despite a series of setbacks.
Two years ago, the Gophers had a 54-3 record, a No. 2 national ranking and 25-game winning streak and still didn’t get to host a regional in the national tournament because the selection committee didn’t deem them worthy of a top 16 seed.
Coach Jessica Allister bolted for Stanford after that season. Stanford is her alma mater, but one wonders if Allister didn’t also privately question whether she had hit the ceiling at Minnesota after the tournament snub.
Then, slugger Kendyl Lindaman, two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, transferred to Florida over the winter because she wanted a better opportunity to further her career.
Meanwhile, the underdogs — as they like to refer to themselves — refused to believe they couldn’t compete with the nation’s best.
“Nobody knows how much we’ve been through,” junior second baseman MaKenna Partain said. “It just makes it all worth it, everything we went through together.”
The clincher at a revved-up Jane Sage Cowles Stadium was a splendid display of clutch hitting and Fiser’s dominance.
One day after throwing a career-high 147 pitches in a Game 1 win, Fiser threw 91 pitches in a complete game shutout. She allowed only three hits and wiggled out of a few tense moments by blowing away hitters.
Fiser didn’t show even a hint of fatigue. If anything, she looked stronger the longer she pitched.
“It’s not something that we didn’t know she can handle,” Trachsel said.
Her players clearly can handle a lot. Nothing seems to bother them, a sign of their collective maturity and toughness.
They will be underdogs again at the World Series, which is just how they like it. Trachsel made an interesting comment before the super regional began. She said that calling her team overachievers is one of the best compliments.
“So many people said we couldn’t do it,” she said.
A lot of things went wrong for Gophers softball the last few years, not to mention the challenges of playing in a northern climate. Injuries, snubs, transfers, a coaching change.
None of that crippled the program or demoralized the players. It only made them stronger.