It never gets old for Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins, who is in her 35th season leading the program. Being with her team when finding out when and where the Wolverines will play in the NCAA Tournament is still a rush.
Michigan, the Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion, is the No. 15 overall seed and will host an NCAA double-elimination regional this weekend at Alumni Field with games beginning Friday. DePaul (34-14) will play James Madison (47-7) at 2 p.m., followed by Michigan facing St. Francis (Pennsylvania) (29-29).
The 64-team NCAA field was revealed Sunday night. Oklahoma (49-2, 18-0) is the No. 1 overall seed. The Super Regionals games are May 23-26 and the College World Series in Oklahoma City begins May 30. Minnesota, which Michigan defeated last Saturday for the Big Ten tournament championship, is a No. 7 seed in the tournament. For the first time since 2009, the Big Ten has three teams among the top-16 seeds. There are six Big Ten teams in the field.
The winner of the Ann Arbor Regional advances to the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional against the winner of the Los Angeles Regional.
Michigan won its 10th Big Ten conference tournament with a 3-2 win over Minnesota on Saturday. The Wolverines have swept the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles six times, including 1995, 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005. The Wolverines have been in the NCAA tournament field in each of the last 24 seasons and have reached the College World Series 12 times. They won the 2005 national championship.
“I had my whole team in front of me and we just erupted when we got in,” Hutchins said Sunday night. “It was really fun to watch, because they are genuinely excited. I let them be excited, and then I said, ‘OK, celebration over. We have work to do.’
“They had their hopes up, because there was enough talk around we could possibly get a host. I told them, ‘You can’t focus on that, because it’s out of our control. We have to be willing to play anybody and play anywhere because we just need to play.”
Considering that at the start of the season, the Wolverines had struggled to 6-8, Hutchins was thrilled the team was able to fulfill her goal heading into the final regular-season series of earning one of the 16 regional sites.
"We’ve hosted a ton of these, and it’s never been harder to get a regional and to get a seed,” she said. “It’s a hard feat. I mean that sincerely. There are so many good teams and everybody’s bracket's full of them. James Madison could certainly argue they should host. I would imagine they would come here to prove that point.”
James Madison is ranked No. 16 nationally and is the Colonial Athletic Association champ, having outscored its opponents 33-1 with 10 home runs for five-inning run-rule victories in all three games. It defeated Michigan in March, 3-0, during a tournament in Tempe, Arizona. The Dukes rank second in the nation in batting average (.349) and sixth in ERA (1.67) and are second in the country in on-base percentage (.443) and third in home runs per-game (1.72).
"This isn’t a gimme regional at all,” Hutchins said. “We are gonna have to play good ball and we’re going to need to pitch well, because in regionals you need to pitch well. James Madison has, arguably, one of the top five pitchers in Megan Good. And we lost to them this year and they didn’t even throw their No. 1 pitcher at us. And their second pitcher was good. They’re a good team. The non-softball people are going to be like, ‘Ah, James Madison, not a softball school.’ They’ve been good for years and this Megan Good is the reason.”
The Wolverines are 17th in the nation in batting average (.319), 24th in ERA (2.08), 28th in slugging (.494) and 13th in on-base percentage (.408).
Hutchins likes where her team is mentally and in terms of leadership. The Wolverines are vastly different than the team they were in the early part of the season.
“As I watched James Madison come up (on the television), we remind ourselves, we didn’t see Megan Good, but James Madison didn’t see us,” Hutchins said. “They saw the different, the other team. We’re playing so much better and so much better together.
“I like where we’re at, I like this team a lot. I told them what we’ve done well, is just what we need to keep doing. We don’t need to change things. We might make adjustments for certain pitchers, and we might do some tactical adjustments, but our heart and soul is why we’re where we’re at. We need our seniors to lead us, and they’ve been doing it all year, so I don’t expect them to do anything different.”
Ann Arbor Regional
All games at Alumni Field
Format: Double elimination
Game 1: No. 2 James Madison vs. No. 3 DePaul, 2 p.m.
Game 2: No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 St. Francis, 4:30 p.m.
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary): Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 4:30 p.m.