The Gophers softball team began Sunday by celebrating a Big Ten tournament championship in the wee hours and ended it by getting an invitation to Seattle for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers (41-12) earned the Big Ten’s automatic bid when — with the clock approaching 1 a.m. in State College, Pa. — they defeated regular-season champion Michigan 4-3 in 10 innings in the title game of the conference tournament.
Passed up as a regional host, the Gophers will open in Seattle on Friday against Summit League champion North Dakota State (38-13). Both teams have won 14 games in a row; the Gophers and Bison had a doubleheader rained out on April 27 in Minneapolis. The Gophers lead the all-time series 19-2.
Washington (36-13), which defeated the Gophers 7-2 in mid-February in Las Vegas, will open against Weber State (37-17).
The winner of that double-elimination regional — one of 16 around the country — advances to the Super Regionals the following weekend against the Tuscaloosa, Ala., champion.
This will be the Gophers’ 11th appearance in the NCAA tournament and their fourth in a row under sixth-year coach Jessica Allister.
Five other teams will represent the Big Ten, including No. 2 overall seed Michigan. Two-time defending champion Florida is the No. 1 overall seed.
The Gophers are Big Ten tournament champions for the third time in school history and for the second time in the past three years.
They were outhit 9-4 and left 14 runners on base and still found a way to beat the Wolverines (46-5). They claimed their first and only lead with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning when the winning run scored. Sydney Fabian raced home from second base on an error by Michigan shortstop Abby Ramirez.
The game lasted 3 hours, 40 minutes. That was on top of the Gophers’ 3:54 game Saturday afternoon against Northwestern in the semifinals.
Sara Groenwegen was named the Big Ten tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. She pitched all 24 innings of the tournament for the Gophers, including 17 on Saturday.