NCAA Softball: A preview of the tournament field; Michigan heads for Seattle

Michigan softball is back in the tournament for a 23rd consecutive season.

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Megan Betsa | Photo Credit: MGoBlog/Flickr

The field of 64 for the 2017 NCAA Women’s Softball Tournament was revealed late Sunday night, with plenty of familiar faces back in the dance. Among those is Michigan, who punched their ticket to a Regional for a 23rd consecutive season.

Michigan (41-11-1) was grouped in the Seattle Regional, hosted by No. 6 overall seed Washington (43-11). The Wolverines will play Mountain West at-large Fresno State (34-21) on Friday; the host Huskies will oppose Big Sky Conference champion Montana (35-22). This is a regional that will take place May 19-21.

Carol Hutchins | Photo Credit: MGoBlog/Flickr

Despite another remarkable season in Ann Arbor, Michigan enters the tournament a tad bit disappointed. They miss out on hosting a regional after being upset by in-state rival Michigan State 5-4 in the Big Ten Tournament this past weekend. The loss snapped a 36-game home winning streak.

On the year, they finished 20-3 in league play, second only to regular season and conference tournament champion Minnesota (54-3, 22-1 Big Ten). Amazingly, the Gophers were not named one of top 16 overall seeds, in which the reward is hosting at minimum a regional.

Much like the previous seasons, the Wolverines have been led by two star-caliber players all season long. Senior ace Megan Betsa finishes the regular season with a 23-8 record overall and posts a career low 1.31 ERA in 37 games (31 starts).

Kelly Christner | Photo Credit: MGoBlog/Flickr

At the dish, no surprise to see senior Kelly Christner bounce back. For her standards, she had a down year a season ago with a .313 average in 59 games played. This season, however, Christner has spiked that back up to a career-best .414 BA, with upticks across the board.

Both Christner and Betsa will be leading a pitching staff and offense into the tournament that ranked second in the Big Ten, behind only the aforementioned Gophers in both categories.

Legendary head coach Carol Hutchins, now in her 33rd season in Ann Arbor, will look to deliver Michigan its second national championship in school history and first since 2005, the first team east of the Mississippi River to do so. They will look to make it three straight appearances in the Women’s College World Series and four in the last five. They went 1-2 in Oklahoma City a year ago and finished as the national runner-up in 2015.

THE FIELD

For a third consecutive season, the Florida Gators (50-6) are the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament. Their chance at a three-peat was interrupted last season when Oklahoma hoisted the trophy in OKC.

The Gators are one of 12 — yes, 12 — teams from the SEC playing in this year’s tournament. And of the 12, seven are hosting regionals this weekend.

As for the defending champion Sooners, they are back in the field as the No. 10 overall seed. They begin their title defense againsr North Dakota State on Friday, May 19.

Michigan is one of four Big Ten teams in the field of 64. In addition to the Wolverines and Gophers, Ohio State (35-16) and Wisconsin (33-15) have punched at-large tickets as well. Minnesota will play in the Tuscaloosa Regional (hosted by No. 16 Alabama); Ohio State heads for the Knoxville Regional (hosted by No. 8 Tennessee); Wisconsin travels to the Eugene Regional (hosted by No. 3 Oregon).

Michigan is the lone representative from the state of Michigan, once again. Michigan State, who we mentioned toppled their arch-rivals in the conference tournament, did not receive an at-large bid after finishing 31-22, their first winning season in a decade.

Not all is lost for MSu, though. They will get to play some postseason ball. They were awarded a bid in the brand new Women’s National Invitiational Softball Championship, which begins on Tuesday. They will be playing on the campus of Illinois State University in a double-elimination, Regional-style tournament.

And despite finishing with the highest win percentage in the Mid-American Conference this season, the Chippewas of Central Michigan (37-15) are also not a part of the NCAAs, after being bounced in their conference tournament.

Here is the schedule for Michigan moving forward. You can click here to view the entire 64-team bracket, along with dates and times:

  • Friday, May 19
    • Game 1: Fresno State vs. Michigan | 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2
    • Game 2: Montana vs. (6) Washington | approx. 11:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
  • Saturday, May 20
    • Game 3: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner | 5 p.m. ET
    • Game 4: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser | approx. 7:30 p.m. ET
    • Game 5: Game 3 Loser vs. Game 4 Winner | approx 10 p.m. ET
  • Sunday, May 21
    • Game 6: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner | 7 p.m. ET
    • Game 7: Rematch of Game 6 (if necessary) | approx. 9:30 p.m. ET