The 813 fans who attended the Gophers softball doubleheader Wednesday saw two developments that help explain why the team has thrived of late, even if the details were enough to stump any sports purist.
Wisconsin gave Gophers slugger Kendyl Lindaman the Barry Bonds treatment, walking her all seven times she came to the plate — including twice intentionally when first base wasn’t even open.
Then, first-year Gophers coach Jamie Trachsel pulled pitcher Amber Fiser after five perfect innings in Game 2, missing a chance to see history. Minnesota has just five perfect games, and this would have been the Gophers’ first in 19 seasons at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
Those coaching curiosities added intrigue to an otherwise drama-free afternoon, as the Gophers steamrolled the Badgers 12-1 in five innings, and 8-0 in six, with both games called by the eight-run mercy rule.
“It’s championship backwards for us,” Trachsel said. “… Big picture, small focus. Never losing sight of what you’re working for.”
After going 56-5 last year in their final season under coach Jessica Allister, the Gophers had an inconsistent first half this season, going 17-13.
But the Gophers are on a serious roll now, outscoring opponents 94-10 over the past 13 games, going 12-1 in that stretch.
“We’re just playing loose,” Lindaman said. “This is just kind of what Gopher softball is about, and I think we were a little tense in the beginning. Granted, we did play some great teams, which I think has really prepared us for Big Tens.”
Coming off back-to-back Big Ten pitcher of the week honors, Fiser pitched three innings for the win in Game 1, and five more in Game 2, improving to 21-8.
Fiser tossed her first career no-hitter against Illinois on March 30. She was in even more rarefied air Wednesday in Game 2. Fifteen up, 15 down.
The Gophers led 7-0 after 4½ innings and could have ended it with one more run. Minnesota (29-14, 12-3 Big Ten) had runners at first and second with one out, and Wisconsin (22-19, 6-8) still walked Lindaman intentionally to load the bases.
Alas, it worked. The next two hitters made outs to end the fifth. After hitting a Gophers record 20 home runs as a freshman last season, Lindaman has 17 this year. The Badgers didn’t accomplish much else Wednesday but did keep her stuck on that number.
“No one wants to pitch to her,” Fiser said. “I think that’s awesome that everyone’s scared of her, but we just wish she’d get those hits and let her beat that record.”
Lindaman also set the Gophers record for walks last year with 63; the catcher has 39 this year.
“We have great hitters on this team, and if they want to walk me every time, that’s great,” she said. “I know someone else will bring me in and that’s just more runs.”
But by not scoring in the fifth inning, the Gophers extended the game, and Trachsel made a pitching change. Carlie Brandt kept the Badgers scoreless, although she gave up a hit, and then ended the game in the sixth with a sacrifice fly.
“We weren’t really thinking about [a perfect game] to be honest,” Trachsel said. “Gosh, [Fiser’s] been a workhorse for us for a long time now and she’s throwing well.
“They fouled off a bunch of pitches so her pitch count was up a little bit [to 71], and with our lead, Carlie’s more than capable.”
With All-America pitcher Sara Groenewegen gone, Fiser has taken on a much bigger load. She pitched eight innings Wednesday, raising her season total to 183⅔.
Fiser said pitching coach Piper Ritter “pulled me aside and told me that it’s getting toward the end of the season, these innings all matter and eight games in the next two weeks is going to be a lot.”
Had the Gophers scored to end the game after five innings, “that would have been awesome,” Fiser added. “But … we still run-ruled them, and we played great.”
Continuing a recent trend.