The Michigan softball team will kick-off NCAA regional softball play on Friday night in Seattle. Although the team hoped its Big Ten title would earn it the right to host at Alumni Field, the Division-1 Softball Committee relegated them to playing away games.
The 16th and final regional host site was given to the University of Washington in Seattle, and Michigan (36-6 Big Ten) will compete in the regional against the Washington Huskies, Seattle University Redhawks, and Portland State Vikings in a double-elimination bracket. The winner of the regional will travel to the Norman, Okla. super regional, where the No.1 Oklahoma softball team most-likely awaits.
The following is a look into the Wolverines’ regional opponents.
Seattle (29-19 overall, 11-5 WAC)
Seattle had a solid season, finishing second in the Western Athletic Conference regular season standings, but winning its conference tournament. It is ranked third in the Seattle region. The Redhawks struggled against the Power Five opponents they met over the course of the season, going a combined 1-8.
Seattle regularly started three pitchers in the circle this season: Carley Nance, Stefanie Madrigal, and Shi Smith. None were necessarily dominant, but they got the job done, together leading the WAC with a 3.30 team ERA.
The Redhawk batting lineup also led its conference, posting the best batting average in the WAC at .299. Catcher Bailey Thompson is the team’s most productive hitter with a team-leading 45 RBI and 14 home runs. No Seattle hitter nears her slugging percentage of .624.
Other notable batters for the Redhawks include their batting average leader, outfielder Ally Choate — who enters the tournament batting .375 — and outfielder Cherise Silvan, a speedy threat on the basepaths.
Washington (41-11, 18-5 PAC-12)
Drawing the No.16 seed in the tournament, Washington will host the regional at Husky Softball Stadium. Although hosting a regional is a privilege reserved for very few teams, receiving the last regional site, and being put in the same super region as Oklahoma, dismayed the Huskies. They stormed out of their watch party after the selection was announced.
Washington was disappointed in the selection it received because it was consistently ranked as a top-five team in the country throughout the season. In fact, the Huskies drew a No. 6 ranking in the final USA Today/NFCA coaches poll. Had they received that ranking in the tournament, they’d be set to host a super regional as well. Washington got no such luck, and will instead engage in a difficult regional battle including two hungry mid-majors and the Big Ten champions.
Like Michigan, Washington possesses a storied softball program that is no stranger to NCAA tournament runs. It won the 2009 National Championship, and advanced to the College World Series in all of the last three tournaments. It boasts a well put-together roster that is more than capable of making another championship run.
Highlighting the Huskies’ 2021 resume are a two-game series sweep of Arizona, a four-game series split with Arizona State, and winning three of four in a series with Oregon. They also managed to take one of four games against UCLA, ranked No. 2 in the tournament, and are a favorite to be at least a finalist in the College World Series.
Washington, however, did not go throughout the season unblemished. It suffered an embarrassing shutout loss to San Diego State, and dropped two of four games in its final series of the season against a sub-par Stanford team.
Nevertheless, the Huskies are dangerous. They are headlined by pitcher Gabbie Plain, a finalist for NCAA Player of the Year. Plain dominated batters all season, working towards an 29-2 record, posting a 1.19 ERA, and striking-out 302 batters in the strong PAC-12 conference. Although the rest of Washington’s pitchers are not nearly as dominant, Plain carries the bulk of the workload, appearing in 38 of the team’s 52 games.
Complimenting Plain is a stacked batting order. The Huskies have 12 batters who bat at least .300 with a minimum of 10 at bats, displaying their tremendous depth. The lineup is filled with lethal threats, such as infielder Sis Bates who is hitting at the .382 clip, but no one in the order is more dangerous than infielder Baylee Klingler. Klinger had a tremendous season for Washington. She led the team in batting average, home runs, and RBI.
Portland State (15-24, 8-10 Big Sky)
Portland State is the fourth-ranked team in the Seattle region, and the only team in the regional with a losing record. Yet, it got hot at the right time to become the representatives of the Big Sky Conference in this year’s tournament.
The Vikings lost 12 of their first 13 games to open the season, including two losses each to both Washington and Seattle. They lost handedly to every ranked opponent they faced this year, but went a perfect 4-0 in the Big Sky tournament to secure an automatic bid into the tournament.
Portland State had the best team batting average in the Big Sky, hitting at the .331 mark. Its offensive attack is led by outfielder Marissa Bruno, who boasted a team best .401 batting average, and the team’s RBI and home run leader in catcher Rachel Menlove.
While their batting order led the Big Sky, the Vikings’ pitching staff struggled. They involved six pitchers regularly throughout the season, and their ace is Olivia Grey. Grey led the team with an uninspiring 4.91 ERA.