Second baseman MaKenna Partain fielded the ball and threw to first for the final out that sent the Gophers softball team to the College World Series. She was near the bottom of the celebration pile after a 3-0 victory over LSU on Saturday.
But the accomplishment didn’t really hit Partain until her coach mentioned the song “Dream On” in the postgame news conference.
As Jamie Trachsel explained how she sat down her players during the first fall practice and played the Aerosmith standard, Partain blurted out an “Oh my …” before covering her mouth with her hands, eyes shimmering.
“From that song on,” Trachsel continued while Partain held back tears, “we said, ‘Why not you guys? Dream big.’ ”
The Gophers did. And through adversity such as top player Kendyl Lindaman transferring, starter Ellee Jensen missing most of the season because of an injury and star pitcher Amber Fiser’s personal struggle with her father’s cancer battle, the team emerged with an opportunity to win an NCAA championship.
The No. 7 seed swept No. 10 seed LSU in two games while hosting its first NCAA super regional in front of an announced crowd of 1,288 at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. The Gophers (45-12) will travel to Oklahoma later this week for their first NCAA College World Series. The program made it in 1976 and 1978 under the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. The NCAA took over the competition in 1982.
While it’s usually the Gophers’ top four hitters of Partain, senior Maddie Houlihan, sophomore Hope Brandner and freshman Natalie DenHartog carrying the offense, the bottom of the lineup made the difference Saturday.
Allie Arneson — whom teammates nicknamed “Little Turbo” because the 5-foot-4 senior hits with power and talks with speed — scored just her third home run of the year and second in the postseason with a solo smash in the top of the fifth inning for the first run of the game. RBI singles from freshman catcher Emma Burns and junior infielder Carlie Brandt added to the total in the final inning.
Fiser rebounded from a career-high 147 pitches Friday to hold LSU to three hits, lowering her ERA to 1.14 ERA. LSU left eight runners on base.
“Every weekend, I swear, my worst game is on Friday, and then I just get stronger as weekends go,” Fiser said. “I know the hitters better as the weekend goes on. Every at-bat, I know what pitches I am stronger with them on. And I just pack them.”
Eight teams will advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. “Dream On” probably will make it onto the pregame playlist, since Trachsel played it before the NCAA regional last weekend and again before the super regional, ahead of showing the movie “Miracle” — which has the song on its soundtrack.
But Partain still remembers that first rotation viscerally.
“We were all just sitting right at home plate, and she started playing that song, and I had tears in my eyes then,” Partain said, choking up. “Because it’s just such a cool thing to dream about. Just, you know, not many people get this chance.
“It just came to my mind that we are actually going to the Women’s College World Series. And it’s pretty awesome.”