One year ago, the Michigan Wolverines softball program came up one game short of capturing their second national title in school history. It would have been on the 10-year anniversary of their first title in 2005.
This go-round, they are back at it again and as good as any team legendary Hall of Fame coach Carol Hutchins has had in Ann Arbor in her now 32 years with the program.
On Sunday, the field of 64 teams for the NCAA Division I Softball Championship was released, and the Wolverines (46-5) are penciled in as the No. 2 overall seed in the bracket, hosting yet another region in Ann Arbor.
They will begin their run towards the Women’s College World Series on Friday, May 20 against Horizon League champion Valparaiso (18-32). First pitch is set for 7 p.m. ET. Also joining the Wolverines and the Crusaders in the Ann Arbor Regional is ACC at-large Notre Dame (41-11) and MAC Tournament champion Miami (OH) (34-21). Those two will throw down at 4:30 p.m. before Michigan takes the field.
Interestingly, this is not the first time Michigan and Valpo have gone toe-to-toe in the NCAA’s. In the 2013 tournament, the Wolverines defeated the Crusaders in the opening game, which also took place in Ann Arbor.
The first weekend of the 64-team field is separated into 16 4-team regional brackets (May 20-22) in a double-elimination format. The winners of each regional will advance to one of eight Super Regional rounds (May 26-29), where teams will need to win two out of three games in order to punch their ticket to Oklahoma City for the WCWS (June 2-8).
You can view the entire field of 64 here.
This is the second consecutive season that Michigan is hosting a regional in the first weekend. The winner of the Ann Arbor Regional will advance to play the survivor of the Columbia Regional, hosted by No. 15 seed Missouri.
Last year, they were the No. 3 overall seed and cruised through the bracket unblemished all the way to the championship series against Florida, where the Gators won two out of three to win their second straight national championship.
Speaking of those Gators, they earned the No. 1 overall seed in the dance for the second year in a row, looking to become the first team since UCLA in 1988-90 to win the national championship three years in a row. Rounding out the top 4 overall seeds are (3) Oklahoma and (4) Auburn.
Oddly enough, Michigan earns a top-4 seed despite not winning its conference tournament. They were ousted in the Big Ten championship game by a very good Minnesota (41-12), who are slotted in the Seattle Regional with No. 11 overall seed Washington (36-13). The loss for Michigan snapped a streak of eight consecutive years winning the Big Ten Tournament title.
Other Big Ten teams in the field include: Northwestern (26-26; Athens Regional), Illinois (35-21; Lexington Regional), Ohio State (33-18-1; Knoxville Regional), and Nebraska (33-19; Columbia Regional), who handed Michigan one of its three conference losses this season with a 1-0 victory back on April 8. That shutout of the Wolverines was one of four one-run defeats on the season.
This the 22nd straight year that Michigan is participating in the postseason and the 20th time they are hosting a regional. They have a 61-18 record on their home field in the NCAA Tournament. They Big Ten regular season title was their ninth consecutive time doing so.
Head coach and Big Ten Coach of the Year Carol Hutchins earlier this season became the winningest coach in Division I softball history, and now stands with 1,478 victories in her 32 years at Michigan.
The Wolverines are led by senior second baseman Sierra Romero, who took home her third Big Ten Player of the Year honors last week. Romero, led the conference with a .485 batting average, .947 slugging percentage, .600 on-base percentage, and 71 RBI and became just the second player ever in Big Ten history to earn POY honors three times.
Romero is also one of ten finalists for national POY. She’s been a finalist every year she’s been at Ann Arbor. Her teammate, pitcher Megan Betsa (23-3, 1.99 ERA) was named Pitcher of the Year for the second straight season.
Michigan as a team hit at a .358 clip this season, nearly .040 better than the next closest team Minnesota (.321 BA). Their 2.06 team ERA was also tops in the Big Ten, 0.42 ERA lower than the Gophers.
For a general perspective of this year’s tournament field, the SEC and Pac-12 reigned supreme in terms of representation, as both leagues have grown accustomed to doing. The two conferences combined for 19 teams in the field, with the SEC claiming 11 of those.
Since the NCAA began recognizing women’s college athletics in 1982, only 12 different different programs have won the national title, Michigan being one of them of course. All 12 of those programs are in the tournament this season.
The Wolverines became the first time east of the Mississippi River to come out on top when they won it all in 2005 and were the only one to do so until Alabama won in 2012 and Florida winning the last two seasons.