After clinching their first Big Ten Softball Tournament championship since 2015, the Michigan Wolverines learned Sunday they would host an NCAA Softball Tournament Regional for the first time in three years. Coach Carol Hutchins’ team will welcome DePaul, James Madison, and St. Francis for the NCAA Regionals beginning Friday, May 17 at the Wilpon Complex in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan, the No. 15 seed in the tournament, opens play against St. Francis in Friday’s second game. James Madison and DePaul will play the first game at 2 PM. As for the potential opponents, Michigan already faced James Madison once this season at the ASU Invitational in Tempe. The Dukes and Wolverines played eight scoreless innings only for JMU to score 3 in the top of the ninth and defeat Michigan under the Arizona sun.
For the maize and blue, Sunday’s selection show finished a remarkable turnaround for a team that as recently as ten weeks ago, suffered an uncharacteristic start that could have made for a down season. Michigan began the 2019 season 6-8 and fell out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2001 when the Wolverines were unranked in the polls on February 25.
Since the last week of February, Michigan went 37-3, going undefeated at home, losing in conference play just once (2-1 at Ohio State on April 13.) and winning both the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament titles for the first time since 2015. The Wolverines made it to Game 3 of the College World Series in Oklahoma City that year before falling to Florida.
The Wolverines played three very different games over the weekend in Bloomington. In the quarterfinals, Michigan and Illinois went to extras tied at 0. That was remarkable considering the Wolverines and Fighting Illini finished the regular season ranked first and second in runs scored. A Lexie Blair solo home run to right center field in the bottom of the eighth sent Michigan to its first B1G Tournament semifinal since 2016.
Saturday morning, an incoming weather system forced the schedule to be moved up. The Wolverines faced Wisconsin at 8 AM local time in Bloomington. The game started early, and Michigan’s offense sprung to life early in the game. The Wolverines led 4-0 after two and cruised to an 8-3 win. Eventual Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player Meghan Beaubien struck out eight Badgers while allowing one run on five hits in the semifinal victory.
The final mountain to climb for Michigan was Minnesota. The Wolverines claimed a 3-0 lead through five innings and held off a late rally from Minnesota to win the championship matchup 3-2. Michigan lost in the conference title game the last time it faced Minnesota in 2016, so there was a sense of redemption for the five Wolverine seniors who lost in that championship game to Minnesota as freshmen. The win was Michigan’s 10th Big Ten Tournament title.
Michigan now has the week to prepare for St. Francis and a potential matchup against James Madison or Depaul. The Wolverines are looking to shake what’s been a two-year postseason funk, as they have fallen in the regionals the past two years after losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The success Michigan had this past weekend in Bloomington, paired with a familiar home setting (The Wolverines were 15-0 at Alumni Field this year) could help push the Wolverines to the Super Regional, and possibly back to the College World Series.
The Wolverines have shown on multiple occasions this year that they can handle adversity and fight through it to find success. The team will be looking to prove itself yet again when the first pitch is thrown Friday afternoon in Ann Arbor.