The Gophers have the best record in Division I softball at 54-3, but in a stunning development Sunday night, that wasn’t enough to land them one of the top 16 seeds in the 64-team NCAA tournament.
The Big Ten champion Gophers, riding a 25-game winning streak, are heading to the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Regional, where they face Louisiana Tech (37-22) on Friday. The other two teams in that regional are Albany and No. 16 seed Alabama.
Even if the Gophers win that double-elimination regional, they likely still would have to face No. 1 overall seed Florida (50-6) in the Super Regionals, where it’s a best-of-three format.
The Gophers were ranked No. 2 nationally in last week’s coaches poll and locked up an NCAA automatic bid by winning the Big Ten tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The NCAA softball selection committee released its latest top 10 rankings on May 6 and had the Gophers at No. 7. The committee, chaired by Keisha Dunlap, from Conference USA, qualified the rankings announcement, saying it “will have no bearing on the final bracket.” Apparently so, because the Gophers fell at least 10 spots despite winning their conference tournament.
On Sunday’s selection show, televised on ESPN2, host Beth Mowins told viewers this year’s bracket was bound to spark some national discussion.
“I know I was taken aback by [Minnesota not being seeded],” analyst Michele Smith said.
Analyst Amanda Scarborough added: “I think that was the No. 1 thing that stood out to all of us.”
Mowins noted that the Gophers were ranked No. 12 in the latest RPI rankings and were just 2-2 against top-25 RPI teams. The Gophers have victories over Louisiana State and California this year but haven’t beaten at top-10 RPI team.
As Mowins noted, all of the 16 seeded teams in the NCAA tournament have at least one top-10 RPI win.
Gophers coach Jessica Allister could not be reached for comment, but the team plans to hold a news conference Monday.
“SURVIVE AND ADVANCE,” tweeted Gophers ace Sara Groenewegen. “Against ALL odds.”
This is the Gophers’ fifth consecutive NCAA berth under Allister. Their only trip to the Super Regionals came in 2014, Groenewegen’s freshman year, when they won their regional with a dramatic home victory over Auburn.
This time, the Gophers had hopes of landing a top-eight seed, which would have given them a chance to host a Super Regional, if they advanced.
They thought their chances were even better after winning their first Big Ten regular-season title since 1991 and adding their third conference tournament title in four years.
Groenewegen, the MVP of the Big Ten tournament, is 30-2 with a 0.59 ERA and 280 strikeouts. Freshman catcher Kendyl Lindaman is batting .438 with a team-record 20 home runs, and junior Sydney Dwyer, who hit a walk-off home run to beat Illinois on Saturday, has a team-record 76 RBI.
The Gophers were hoping to play more home games at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, where they were 16-0 and expanded their seating this year, due to demand.
Instead, they will head back on the road, where they spent the first several weeks of the season. They are 20-3 in true road games this season and 18-0 in neutral sites. But the selection committee still wasn’t convinced.