The Gophers softball team, fresh off the second Big Ten tournament championship in school history, will play at home during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers will be joined by Green Bay, Auburn and North Dakota State in the double-elimination regional, which begins Friday at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. The Gophers, the 16th and final seed out of the 64 teams, will open against Green Bay. The Minneapolis survivor advances to the Super Regionals the following week.
This will be the Gophers’ ninth NCAA tournament appearance and their second in a row under coach Jessica Allister. They earned the Big Ten’s automatic bid by beating Michigan 3-2 in the conference tournament championship game on Saturday night in Evanston, Ill. Last year they were eliminated in three games in the Seattle regional.
The Gophers (41-9) enter the tournament having won five in a row and eight of their last nine. Their .820 winning percentage is the highest in school history.
“I feel good about the games that we’ve been stringing together the last couple of outings, so I think we’re playing some good softball right now, and it should add to our confidence,” Allister said after Saturday’s victory.
The victory over the Wolverines came in walk-off fashion when freshman Sam Macken drove in Erica Meyer with a two-out single on a 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning. The hit was the first of the weekend for the Rochester, Minn., native.
“Just staying calm and keeping it simple,” Macken said of her approach at the plate in the seventh. “Kind of like all we’ve been doing every day at practice. Just doing the same thing and not trying to do too much.”
Kaitlyn Richardson was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Richardson finished the weekend with an .857 batting average, .889 on-base percentage, and 2.000 slugging percentage, thanks in part to two home runs and two doubles.
Oregon was made the No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. The Southeastern Conference led all leagues with 11 teams. The Big Ten has five teams, the others being Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Northwestern.