VAN HORNE — Oklahoma City is a dream come true for Amber Fiser.
But, according to her high school coach, not necessarily her ultimate ceiling.
Tokyo in 2020? Paris in 2024?
“I think you’re looking at an Olympic (softball) pitcher someday,” said Eric Stenberg, who guided Benton Community to a Class 3A state championship in Fiser’s senior season of 2016.
Fiser will be in the middle of the action Thursday, when seventh-seeded Minnesota (46-12) faces No. 2 UCLA (51-6) in the first round of the eight-team, double-elimination Women’s College World Series.
First pitch is 1:30 p.m. at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
“It’s such an amazing experience being part of the first Minnesota team to advance,” Fiser said Tuesday. “There are a lot of people who constantly doubted us, said we aren’t good because we aren’t an SEC school. To finally prove them wrong, just shows how we embrace being the underdogs all the time.”
A junior from Van Horne, Fiser (31-7) has developed into one of the nation’s best collegiate pitchers. She owns a 1.17 ERA with 339 strikeouts (against 65 walks) in 250 1/3 innings as the Gophers’ ace. Opponents are hitting .167 against her.
It’s just of the continuation of the progression and the maturation she made at Benton.
“Since high school, my mentality has grown so much. Things used to get in my head and now, I don’t let anything bother me,” Fiser said. “I just focus on what I need to do to help my team out.”
It’s not just maturity. It’s the evolution from thrower to pitcher.
“She throws ever harder than she did in high school,” said Alyssa Wiebel, former teammate at Benton who now plays at Illinois State. “But what I notice is how much her pitches have started to move.”
Fiser is hard to hit, and hard to catch. Ask her dad.
“Last winter, I was catching her, sitting on my bucket,” Rob Fiser said. “She threw one of those off-speed change-ups that drops off the table. I didn’t get my glove down quick enough.”
The result was a broken toe.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
No big deal, though. Within days, Rob was back on her bucket, a boot on his foot. He has dealt with worse.
Last summer, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It’s inoperable; instead, he has gone through 40 rounds of radiation, ending April 24.
The news devastated Amber. And it strengthened her.
“It taught me to have a different perspective on life,” she said. “My dad has taught me how to be a fighter and how to focus on only the things that I can control. He’s taught me how to stay positive when times are tough and reminds me that everything happens for a reason.”
Tuesday, Rob was scrambling to make arrangements for the nine-hour trip to Oklahoma City — “I’m not one to jinx it and get a hotel room ahead of time,” he said.
Most of the rest of Fiser’s fan base will watch the ESPN telecast. That includes Gary Zittergruen, superintendent at Benton Community.
“We couldn’t be more proud of her,” Zittergruen said. “Each year, from the time she was in high school to now, you could see more confidence in Amber. She has devoted a lot of her time to become successful. She’s very focused, and she’s a fierce competitor.”
Fiser is ready to rear back and let it fly. The Gophers are rookies in Oklahoma City. And underdogs.
“We’re expected to lose because we’re a lower seed,” she said. “But this team has learned to embrace being the underdogs and challenges every top team that we face.
“We have fun, play free, and that’s when we’re most dangerous.”
l Comments: (319) 368-8857; firstname.lastname@example.org