Amber Fiser scoffed when she heard she threw a career-high 147 pitches for the Gophers in their first game of their NCAA softball super regional vs. Louisiana State on Friday.
While her team still won, the junior was annoyed at herself, maybe even a little disappointed. She hadn’t produced her best game. And for one of the best pitchers in the country, that’s irritating.
The Gophers don’t have an incredibly deep bullpen, but they do have at least one serviceable backup in senior Sydney Smith, with her 13-5 record and 2.48 ERA. And yet, the idea of starting Smith — a transfer from LSU — instead of Fiser for Saturday’s ultimately decisive game seemed ludicrous.
“It’s just a mind-set,” Fiser said matter-of-factly about how she recovers from that heavy load with a quick turnaround. “You’ve got to get over it.”
Of course Fiser started Saturday. Of course she posted a 3-0 shutout with just three hits. Of course she led the Gophers to the Women’s College World Series for the first time in their NCAA history.
She even came back Sunday and threw out the first pitch at the Twins game.
“For her to come out after [Friday’s] performance, mentally and physically, and give us everything she had,” Gophers coach Jamie Trachsel said. “Not just from the weekend, but from this entire season, with the amount of innings she’s thrown and what we’ve asked of her. You can’t say enough good things about her.”
The Van Horne, Iowa, native has pitched 250 ⅓ innings this season, which ranks fourth in the nation. She’s fifth with 339 strikeouts, tied for third with 31 victories (against just seven losses) and 12th with a 1.17 ERA. She has 10 shutouts and allows an average of just 4.14 hits per game, holding opponents to a .167 batting average.
LSU coach Beth Torina called Fiser “one of the best out there,” while Tigers senior Amanda Sanchez said Fiser was “amazing” and made it hard for batters to be on time for pitches, since she mixes speeds so well.
The Tigers were able to throw Fiser off on Saturday, fouling many of her pitches, but Fiser adjusted her game quickly, tossing just 91 pitches. Fiser joked that she’s “backwards” because she always pitches her worst at the beginning of a series and grows stronger as it progresses, and she learns batters’ habits.
That’s maybe bad news for the seven other teams in the Women’s College World Series, which runs Thursday through June 5 in Oklahoma City. Fiser has pitched every inning of the NCAA tournament so far.
“She’s done so much for us. She’s shut down opponents, almost regardless of whom we play,” Trachsel said. “… She’s carried us so many times and shut out so many opponents and come out so big in so many big moments.”
Trachsel added she’s “never worried” when Fiser is in the circle, even when she’s not performing at her peak, and that’s because Fiser has put the program on her back the past couple of years.
Fiser said the Gophers’ dream has been to play in Oklahoma City. But now that they are there, settling for just an appearance might not be enough for Fiser’s high standards.
“We’re always going to be the underdog. We could be the No. 1 team in the country, and we’re still going to be the underdog,” Fiser said. “This team has just taken that to another level, and I think that we totally embrace it. And we go out there every game, no matter what we’re ranked or anything, just knowing that we’re the underdog, we’re supposed to lose.
“And we just play free.”