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Dane Mizutani | St. Paul Pioneer Press | May 22, 2019

2019 NCAA softball tournament: How Minnesota finally broke through

This will get you excited for this year's WCWS

No matter what happens next, this version of the Gophers softball team will forever go down as the one that got the program over the hump.

On the heels of Monday's convincing 8-1 victory over Georgia to close out the Minneapolis Regional of the NCAA tournament, No. 7 seed Minnesota will host an NCAA Super Regional for the first time ever next weekend when No. 10 seed LSU comes to town.

It's the culmination of years of hard work for the Gophers, who over the past decade have steadily built a sleeping giant north of the Mason-Dixon line, where powerhouse softball programs aren't exactly widespread.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2019 NCAA softball super regionals

It's been a longstanding notion that northern schools can't compete with southern schools, and for awhile Minnesota actually helped prove that point, dominating Big Ten competition only to come up short in the NCAA Regional.

Which is why this weekend was so poetic.

Not only did the Gophers earn the right to host an NCAA Regional two years after being passed over despite finishing the year as the No. 1-ranked team in the country. They beat Georgia twice to advance to the Super Regional.

"We are the No. 7 seed in the country for a reason," said Amber Fiser, who pitched a complete game and was nothing short of dominant in the pitcher's circle over the weekend. "To be able to go out there and prove it today, and hopefully next weekend, is so exciting."

It was hard to watch Minnesota this weekend and not think about some of the disappointments that have haunted the program over the past five years.

Since the Gophers advanced to the NCAA Super Regional for the first time in program history in 2014 -- they were quickly laid to rest by No. 1 seed Oregon -- they haven't been able to get back to that stage.

They lost to Arizona in 2015, Washington in 2016, Alabama in 2017 and Washington in 2018, each passing NCAA Regional more frustrating than the last. No matter how impressive a season, the pressure always seemed to get to them on the biggest stage.

DI SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT: A complete guide to the 2019 super regionals

There was pressure again this weekend, a lot of it actually, except this time Minnesota slightly altered its approach, perhaps learning from its past shortcomings.

"We were just trying to have fun with it," Fiser said. "We just wanted to show them what Gopher softball was all about. We have been waiting for that breakthrough for so long and we finally broke through when it mattered the most."

Whether it was dominating in a 3-0 victory over North Dakota State in its regional opener, tying the game in their final at bat and earning a walkoff 2-1 win over Georgia in the winner's bracket final, or battling through a daylong rain delay before finishing the job with a 8-1 rout of Georgia in their third game, the Gophers rose to the occasion time and time again.

"The softball world was paying attention to Minnesota today," said coach Jamie Trachsel, who wasn't interested in talking about the past, choosing instead to focus on the present. "We handled it really well and came out on top."

That will be the goal again next weekend against LSU with a trip to the College World Series on the line. And it looks like the Gophers might just be getting started.

"We are showing what we can do," said Natalie DenHartog, who blasted a three-run homer in the top of the first inning that proved to be the difference. "And frankly we haven't even showed everything we are capable of. We are ready for the next step and ready to keep working hard."

This article is written by Dane Mizutani from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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