TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Gophers softball team’s saga didn’t end how players wanted it to, nor where.
The Gophers fell 1-0 to Alabama on Sunday in the championship game of the Tuscaloosa Regional at Rhoads Stadium.
The Big Ten champions finished the season with a 56-5 record, and with some lingering indignation over how they were sent on the road as an unseeded team despite their record and credentials.
“This should have been a Super Regional game,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
“At least,” said Gophers coach Jessica Allister, indicating that the epic pitching duels between the teams could have been played at the Women’s College World Series.
Instead, it happened on Alabama’s home turf in front of more than 1,900 fans.
“It’s a heck of an environment,” Allister said. “This is a fun place to come play.
“I think the unfortunate thing is that our athletes didn’t get the chance to do that at their home. And it’s unfortunate that a group of people sitting in the room can make that decision. I think it’s just sad because I think they deserved better.”
A Gophers victory over Alabama on Sunday only would have meant a rematch Monday.
Allister talked after the game about the mental toll on her team since the announcement a week before that the Gophers — ranked No. 1 in the final coaches poll of the regular season — wasn’t worthy of a top-16 seed.
Then came a tough loss to Alabama on Saturday — 1-0 in nine innings, with the winning run scoring on a bases-loaded walk on a ball-four call that many disputed. That forced the Gophers to have to play twice Sunday — they beat Louisiana Tech 5-3 in nine innings.
“I think they had a lot thrown at them over the last week,” Allister said.
On the field, Minnesota couldn’t solve Alabama’s pitching. Sydney Littlejohn shut the Gophers down through 5 ⅓ innings, scattering five hits. When the Gophers started to figure her out, the Crimson Tide switched back to ace Alexis Osorio, who threw 180 pitches against them the day before.
Osorio entered with two Gophers on and pitched five outs of perfect ball with two strikeouts for the save.
The Crimson Tide scored the only run it needed in the first inning when Marisa Runyon hit an RBI double.
“You can’t take away anything from Alabama, they had an unbelievable weekend,” Allister said. “Those pitchers threw great, they played great defense, they got big hits. That is a good ballclub. They’ve got a chance to do some big things.”
Minnesota came in averaging 7.5 runs per game with a .349 team batting average — one of the best in the country — and 65 home runs.
But in the regional, the pop wasn’t there. Minnesota scored 16 runs in 30 innings, all of them against Louisiana Tech. The Gophers didn’t hit a home run in four games.
“It’s unfortunate,” Gophers senior Sara Groenewegen said.
Groenewegen (31-4), the Gophers’ ace who finished with more than 1,200 career strikeouts, battled Alabama pitch for pitch.
It wasn’t enough.
And it was the end.
“We’re still a good ball team,” Groenewegen said. “We’ve just got to see it that way.”