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Brandner Walks Gophers Off Into Finals

(Photo Courtesy of Minnesota Athletics)

MINNEAPOLIS – Hope Brandner was waiting for a changeup. The pitch had stifled her more than once on Saturday afternoon against the Georgia Bulldogs. But in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the game tied at one, she wasn’t going to let it happen again.

The sophomore transfer from Oregon State sat on the 1-0 pitch, waiting for pitcher Mary Wilson Avant to give her one more chance. When the pitch left Avant’s hand, Brandner got her wish and didn’t miss it, crushing the ball to left center over the head of left fielder Tyler Armistead and into the crowd for the walk-off solo home run, her 22nd of the season.

“I think that gave us great momentum going into the rest of the weekend,” Brandner said. “It proved to us that we belong to be here… that we deserve this.”

The Gophers advanced to the Minneapolis Regional final with the 2-1 win over Georgia, bringing them within one game of hosting a Super Regional at home next weekend.

“It was our first comeback of the year from the sixth inning on and there couldn’t be a better time for it,” head coach Jamie Trachsel said. “In previous games this year we’ve had some opportunities and we’ve felt the disappointment of not pushing those runs and today we did it. Today was a turning point for our team, figuring out and finding a way to win this game.

The Gophers were down to their final two outs in the seventh inning before tying the game up on a Makenna Partain RBI-single that bounced off of Avant’s glove on the mound and found the gap between the second baseman and shortstop.

Minnesota was kept in the game behind the right arm of Amber Fiser. Fiser has pitched every inning of the Gophers play in the regional and put together another strong outing on Saturday.

The junior went the distance, pitching eight innings, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out eight. The lone run came from a Jordan Doggett homerun in the sixth inning. It was Doggett’s second homerun of the season.

“For us to be able to come out with that W, put ourselves in a championship Sunday and know that these teams have to stay out and battle it, battle elements,” Trachsel said. “This isn’t over yet and it’s only going to get harder, but we’ll be ready.”

The Gophers will play the winner of Georgia and Drake, which was postponed in the fifth inning due to lightning and will finish Sunday morning. At the time of the delay, Georgia was leading Drake 4-2.

Drake beat North Dakota State 8-0 in five innings on Saturday afternoon to advance in the tournament and play Georgia. Drake pitcher Nicole Newman pitched the complete game and took a perfect game into the fourth inning before a single from senior Katie Shoultz broke it up. Newman leads the NCAA with five perfect games this season. The loss marked the end of the season for North Dakota State, which finished the 42-16.

“I love this program and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Shoultz said. “Just getting to regionals is always fun. We didn’t leave how we’d like to, but I love my class and I love my teammates and it was a great experience. I’m glad I was a Bison.”

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