Minnesota pitcher Amber Fiser entered Friday’s game against Maryland softball as the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, boasting a 1.27 ERA that ranked 26th in the nation. By the time the Gophers left College Park, Fiser’s ERA had risen to 1.50, having surrendered six runs in 12 innings against the Terps.
Fiser had allowed three or more earned runs in just two of her first 18 appearances this season, but she gave up three in each of her two starts against Maryland. It was one of the few bright spots for the Terps, who were swept in their first Big Ten series of the season.
Maryland (16-15), despite starting conference play 0-3, was able to find some cracks in the usually sure-handed Fiser and the rest of the Minnesota pitching staff, giving the Terps’ offense some much-needed confidence as they head into a conference slate packed with similarly prodigious pitchers.
“She’s one of the best pitchers in the conference, and we proved we can hit her,” coach Julie Wright said. “That means a lot to our offense and the work they put in all week and our preparation.”
At the USF Series a week earlier, Fiser pitched 20 innings and did not allow any runs.
Maryland wasted no time in snapping that scoreless streak, opening the weekend with a three-run first inning Friday night. After a walk and a wild pitch, catcher Gracie Voulgaris tripled, bringing home right fielder Amanda Brashear to start scoring.
Playing without their usual leadoff hitter, second baseman Taylor Okada, who was injured against Bryant on March 15, the Terps were able to score three runs on two hits and two walks off Fiser in the first frame.
However, Maryland couldn’t translate the fast start to a win, as Minnesota right fielder Maddie Houlihan hit a sixth-inning grand slam to take the lead and seal a 6-5 victory. And while Fiser bounced back from the first inning with three straight shutout innings, the Terps scored another run off her in the bottom of the fifth on a Voulgaris single.
“It’s fun because we can all tell that we can compete with [Fiser],” third baseman Anna Kufta said. “That’s the best of the best, so as long as we’re toe-to-toe with her, we know we can be successful in the Big Ten.”
The Terps also faced right-hander Sydney Smith, who allowed two earned runs in 6.1 innings throughout the weekend. Smith started Saturday’s blowout for the Gophers, leading them to a 19-5 win. Despite facing tough pitchers this weekend, Wright was impressed with her team for finishing the game on a positive note, capitalized by a two-RBI double from shortstop Bailey Boyd.
Both Maryland and Minnesota struggled to find offense in the final game Sunday, but the Gophers were the first to break open the scoreless duel. Minnesota scored four runs in the fifth inning, partially helped by two Terps errors.
Minnesota scored another run in the sixth, but Maryland again displayed its resilience by plating three runs against Fiser in the bottom of the inning to pull within two.
“It was just about working our plan and hitting what pitches we decided were good pitches to swing at,” designated player Sammie Stefan said. “We stayed disciplined and knew what we needed to do: Get on base.”
Though the Terps couldn’t stage a comeback in the final frame, losing 5-3, Wright said her team showed a lot of fight until the end, and the series will serve as a learning tool in the coming weeks.
Next weekend, the Terps will have to go against Ohio State pitcher Morgan Ray, who owns a 1.67 ERA, and will later be tasked with facing Indiana pitchers Tara Trainer and Emily Goodin, who are second and sixth in the Big Ten in ERA, respectively.
“We tell them all the time, ‘Knowledge is power,’” Wright said. “I’m really excited about what they’re doing, their preparation and where they’re headed.”