Everybody is going to be there. All 12 teams in the ever-expanding Big Ten Conference.

In Evanston, Ill., playing to a winner in the conference softball tournament.

It's a single-elimination format, no room for mistakes, and the winner gets an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

The Gophers are the third seed in the field. And this year, they don't really have to worry too much how they do. Win or lose, they will be in the NCAA tournament. They've had a strong season, by winning percentage, the best in school history.

Minnesota is 38-9 with an RPI that's No. 17 in the country. RPI measure a team's strength of schedule. And the Gophers' RPI is the best in the Big Ten, just ahead of conference co-champions Michigan at No. 18 and Nebraska at No. 18. Both those teams have 40 wins, but Michigan (40-11) has played five more games, Nebraska (40-14) seven more.

The Gophers have a realistic shot at doing well in Evanston mostly because of their pitching depth. Freshman Sara Groenewegen. a freshman, was named the Big Ten's pitcher and freshman of the year on Wednesday. And senior Sara Moulton holds about every career school record there is.

Either can win. Each also can come in and relieve the other if necessary. When a team needs to win three games in three days like the Gophers need to do, that's a great bonus.

Moulton has the experience, Groenewegen is a little more overpowering as her strikeout numbers suggest.

Here is Thursday's schedule:

No. 6 seed Purdue vs. No. 11 Indiana, 11 am

No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Penn State, 1:30 pm

No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Illinois, 4:30 pm

No. 5 Northwestern vs. Michigan State, No. 12

Friday's schedule ... all games on Big Ten Network

Purdue-Indiana winner vs. No. 3 Gophers, 11 am

Ohio State-Penn State winner vs. No. 2 Nebraska, 1:30 pm

Iowa-Illinois winner vs. No. 1 Michigan, 4:30 pm

Northwestern-Michigan State winner vs. Wisconsin, 7 pm

Last year the Gophers lost 9-3 to Wisconsin in the title game. Minnesota is 2-1 vs. Nebraska and 1-2 vs. Michigan this season. All those games were on the road.

The Gophers are No. 15 in the USA Today/NFCA poll this week, No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. The Wolverines are No. 10/11, the Cornhuskers No. 18 in both.

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