Six earn NCAA Tournament berths with three receiving top-16 seeds
ROSEMONT, Ill. — The Big Ten Conference will be well-represented in this year’s softball postseason, with eight of its programs earning a spot in either the NCAA or National Invitational Softball Championship (NISC) tournaments after the brackets for both events were announced Sunday night. Highlighting the announcement, six Big Ten schools were chosen for the NCAA Tournament, with three receiving top-16 seeds and the opportunity to play host to regionals this weekend.
Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin all earned NCAA Tournament berths, with Minnesota the No. 7 overall seed, Michigan seeded 15th and Northwestern seeded 16th. The last time the Big Ten had three top-16 NCAA seeds was 2009 (Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State, but NU was unable to host that year) and the last time the conference had three regional hosts was 2008 (Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern).
In addition, the NISC selected Purdue and Rutgers to represent the Big Ten in this year’s tournament. Michigan State was the first conference representative in the tournament, reaching the regional finals during the event’s inaugural year (2017).
Sunday’s announcements represent the most postseason softball qualifiers the Big Ten has ever fielded and the most NCAA Tournament participants for the conference since 2016, when it also had six schools chosen. The Big Ten had a record-setting seven programs selected for NCAA Tournament play in 2003 and six in 2009, not including current conference member Nebraska, which received a berth both years.
Illinois (32-23) will compete in its seventh NCAA Tournament, earning a berth for the third time in four years (also 2016 and 2017). The Fighting Illini will head to the Lexington (Kentucky) Regional and begin their postseason slate against Virginia Tech at noon (ET) Friday live on ESPN3.
Michigan (43-11), the Big Ten Champion and Big Ten Tournament winner, heads to the NCAA Tournament for the 27th time in program history, having advanced to the NCAA Women’s College World Series on 12 occasions and earning the 2005 national championship. The Wolverines will be playing host to regional action for the 21st time (first since 2016) and will begin this year’s postseason journey at 4:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, taking on Saint Francis (Pa.) live on ESPNU.
Minnesota (41-12), the Big Ten Tournament runner-up, earned its second national seed (after a No. 16 seed in 2014). The Golden Gophers will be playing host to regional games for the third time in program history (also 2002 and 2014) and will make their 15th NCAA Tournament appearance overall, as well as their seventh in a row. The Golden Gophers will begin regional play at 9:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, welcoming North Dakota State to Jane Sage Cowles Stadium in a game that will air live on ESPN3.
Northwestern (43-10), which finished second in the Big Ten this year, will be playing host to NCAA regional games for the first time since 2008 and earned their first top-16 seed since 2009 (when the Wildcats were seeded 12th). NU will also be competing in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in eight seasons and the 18th time in program history. The Wildcats will start their postseason run at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday against Detroit Mercy live on ESPN3.
Ohio State (34-16) earned its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth and 11th in program history. The Buckeyes are bound for the Knoxville (Tennessee) Regional and an opening-round matchup against North Carolina at 11 a.m. (ET) Friday live on ESPN2.
Wisconsin (40-12) will compete in its eighth NCAA Tournament, earning a berth for the third second year in a row. The Badgers will head to the Norman (Oklahoma) Regional and begin their postseason slate against Notre Dame at 7 p.m. (ET) Friday live on ESPN.
The 64-team NCAA Tournament field is divided into 16, four-team double-elimination regionals, which begin Thursday. The 16 regional winners advance to best-of-three super regionals (to be played May 23-26 on the campus of the higher-seeded school), with the eight remaining schools competing May 30-June 5 at the NCAA Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Meanwhile, Purdue (31-27) received its third postseason berth and first since back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009. The Boilermakers will travel to the NISC Ames (Iowa) Regional and will face South Dakota in their first game at 11 a.m. (ET) Thursday.
Rutgers (28-24) also secured its third postseason bid and first in 1994, when the Scarlet Knights earned their second NCAA Tournament berth. RU will head to the NISC Lynchburg (Virginia) Regional and opens tournament play at 10 a.m. (ET) Thursday against Appalachian State.
The NISC will feature 19 participants this year, divided into four double-elimination regionals, which also begin Thursday. The four regional winners advance to the championship round, which will be played May 24-26 in Fort Collins, Colorado.