OKLAHOMA CITY — If the opening-round game of the Women’s College World Series was about the Gophers softball team trying to slay the dragon, then Saturday’s elimination game is about defeating its Kryptonite once and for all.

With the Gophers in a do-or-die scenario following Thursday’s 7-2 loss to UCLA in their WCWS debut, it’s almost fitting that they now have to beat Washington to keep their dreams alive.

After all, this is the team that has eliminated the Gophers from the NCAA tournament twice in the past three years. That fact isn’t lost on anybody heading into the 11 a.m. game Saturday, June 1.

“We haven’t exactly had the best games against Washington in our careers,” junior second baseman MaKenna Partain said. “We are definitely ready to stick it to them.”

“I was talking to the other seniors, like, ‘That’s not going to happen again,’ ” senior outfielder Maddie Houlihan added. “We are going to come out and give it our best. Hopefully our best is going to be better than their best.”

After Thursday’s loss to UCLA, the Gophers tried to keep the mood light, realizing that no matter what happens next, they have made history. They cracked jokes during a media session from the basement of USA Softball Hall Of Fame Stadium before refocusing and making their intentions clear.

“We aren’t done yet,” junior ace Amber Fiser said. “Obviously we don’t want Washington to do that to us for a third time. We’re going to be ready them.”

After the Gophers’ loss to UCLA, the rest of their night was about trying to take their mind off the task at hand. They ate dinner as a team and everybody got to hang out with their families before reconvening for practice at a nearby field Friday morning.

Once there, coach Jamie Trachsel tried to keep everything in perspective, toeing the line between making sure her team isn’t simply happy to be there and making sure her players are proud of what they have accomplished. She also talked about the lessons learned from the loss to UCLA before strategically mentioning the fact that last year’s national champion, Florida State, lost its opener before rattling off six straight wins en route to hoisting the hardware.

“And they lost to UCLA,” Trachsel, a Duluth native, said with a smile. “We had a good conversation about that, and I know we’ll put everything out there to make sure that isn’t the last time we’re putting these uniforms on. We are going to come out fighting because we don’t want our story to end.”

Maybe the biggest thing the Gophers learned from the loss to UCLA was that they can hang with the best teams in the nation. They know the score doesn’t reflect how close the game was.

“We belong here,” Houlihan said. “We know that. We are meant to be on this stage. It’s comforting going into our next game knowing that we didn’t play our best ball and it was still a close game until that blowup inning (UCLA scored four runs in the sixth). We learned a lot from our last game, and now we just have to have a good attitude heading into our next game.”

Not many people are giving the Gophers a chance this weekend, and that’s OK with them. Honestly, it would be weird for the team if it was the other way around.

“All year we’ve talked a lot about chasing our dreams,” freshman designated player Natalie DenHartog said. “And even though being here and being able to make history is definitely a dream come true, it’s about so much more than that. It’s about the journey we took and the story we wrote to get here. We are just excited to continue to write that story. It’s not over yet.”

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