Two weeks ago, it seemed out of the cards. But after a pair of massive dominoes fell into place, the Michigan softball team was selected as one of the 16 host sites for the four-team regional round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Heading into the final weekend of conference play, the Wolverines found themselves one game behind Northwestern in the Big Ten standings. With the help of third-place Minnesota’s series win over the Wildcats, Michigan used a sweep of Maryland to clinch the outright regular season conference title.
On Saturday, the team captured its 10th Big Ten Tournament championship in program history with a thrilling win over the three-time defending champion Golden Gophers to sweep the Big Ten titles.
“(Hosting a regional) is the goal,” said coach Carol Hutchins on Apr. 28. “To be honest, it’s the number one goal of all the goals we have. Don’t get me wrong, championships are great, but to host the regional and be a seeded team would be a tribute to this senior class. … It would be really special.”
On Sunday night, Hutchins and the 15th-seeded Wolverines achieved their goal. Following two weeks of uncertainty, Michigan seniors Faith Canfield (.418 batting average), Natalie Peters (.358), Alex Sobczak (.336), Mackenzie Nemitz (.288) and Katie Alexander (.280) will in fact have their “tribute,” as Hutchins put it. Each senior is a member of the team’s starting lineup.
The Wolverines will welcome Saint Francis (PA), James Madison and DePaul to Alumni Field this coming weekend. On Friday, Michigan will take on Saint Francis while James Madison squares off against DePaul in the first leg of the double-elimination round. The winner of the Ann Arbor regional will face the winner of the Los Angeles regional, hosted by No. 2 seed UCLA, in next weekend’s super regional.
If the Wolverines and the Dukes both advance, Saturday will present an opportunity for Michigan to avenge one of its five non-conference losses against ranked opponents. On March 7, then-No. 21 James Madison downed the Wolverines in nine innings at the Arizona State Invitational.
Now, Michigan will host the regional round for the first time since 2016. That year, the momentum of sweeping the regional propelled the program to the Women’s College World Series.
If Hutchins and the Wolverines are searching for one more tribute, there wouldn’t be anything more fitting than returning to Oklahoma City.