The Minnesota Golden Gophers softball team heads into the 2019 Big Ten Softball Tournament on a roll and tyring to lock up a home NCAA Regional next weekend. The Gophers have one the last three Big Ten Tournaments and will try and make it four in a row in Bloomington, Indiana. They kick off play in the quarterfinals on Friday night against Purdue.
Minnesota comes into the Big Ten Tournament with the #3 seed. The Gophers finished with a Big Ten record of 20-2 on the season, behind regular season champion Michigan who went 22-1, and #2 seed Northwestern who despite losing two of three games in the last weekend of the regular season to the Gophers ended the season as 21-2. Minnesota lost out on one game earlier in the season to last place Michigan State due to weather, and a win in that game would have vaulted them over the Wildcats into the #2 seed.
The real number that matters for the Gophers is #8. That is Minnesota’s current RPI. If the Gophers can make it through the Big Ten Tournament relatively unscathed, that number should stay pretty steady, which should in theory lock up at minimum a home NCAA Regional at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium next weekend. The Gophers hosted in 2015 and advanced through to the NCAA Super Regional where they lost to the Washington Huskies. If, and it’s a big if given the knowledge of how the NCAA likes to seed teams and reward western and southern teams, but if Minnesota can stay at that #8 slot or above, they would have the potential to host their first ever home Super Regional as well. We will all find out how that ends up during the NCAA Softball Tournament Selection Show in ESPN 2 at 8 PM Sunday night.
If the Gophers want to get to that point, they need to win their initial game Friday night against Purdue. Minnesota swept a three game series from the Boilermakers in late March by scores of 5-1, 5-1 and 8-2. The #11 seed Boilermakers upset #6 seed Rutgers in a first round game that did not start until nearly 10:30 CDT Thursday night due to a rain delay.
It will be interesting to see how Gopher head coach Jamie Trachsel plays their game against the Boilermakers. She would most likely love to start Sydney Smith and try to avoid needing to use Amber Fiser at all on Friday night. Assuming the Gophers win they would either play Northwestern or host Indiana at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon in the semifinal, with the championship game against either Wisconsin, Michigan , or Illinois immediately following. If you can save as many Fiser bullets for Saturday as possible, you need to do it.
Offensively the Gophers will have a question of if second baseman and First Team All-Big Ten player Makenna Partain can go. She has been battling injuries and has both an injured shoulder and was seen wearing a boot on her foot earlier this week. It’s expected she will play, but if not Minnesota will have a rather large hole in it’s leadoff spot. The Gophers still have two of the best power treats in the country in their three and four holes. Hope Brandner led the conference in home runs in 2019 and has the second highest single season total in Gopher history. In the cleanup spot Natalie DenHartong continues to shine, and she was just named one of ten finalists for the Schutt Sports/NFCA Freshman of the Year award. DenHartog leads the conference in RBIs, is second in slugging percentage, third in home runs and sixth in batting average. She is 11th in the country in RBIs and 15th in slugging percentage.
We have seen that the Gophers can match up against the best of the Big Ten. They took two of three from previously undefeated Northwestern last week. Michigan who won the regular season championship did not have to play the #2, #3, or #4 seeds in the regular season due to the Big Ten’s unbalanced schedule. But Minnesota has been in this position before. In 2018 the #2 seeded Gophers won the tournament defeating #3 seed Indiana and #4 seed Northwestern. #1 Michigan lost their quarterfinal game. In 2017 the Gophers ran the table as the #1 seed, but missed #2 Michigan as they....once again lost in their first round game. In 2016 Michigan tore through the first two rounds winning by a combined score of 16-1. Then the #2 seeded Gophers would knock off the Wolverines in the championship game on a walk-off hit in the 10th inning by Sam Macken. Minnesota plays very well in this tournament, and is ready to make another run.
Hopefully the Gophers can take care of business, earn that home regional/Super regional and try to make an epic run to the College World Series in Oklahoma City. But it all starts Friday night against Purdue.
HOW TO WATCH:
Big Ten Softball Tournament Quarterfinal—Bloomington, Indiana
#11 Purdue Boilermakers vs #3 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Time: 6PM Friday
B1G Softball Semifinal vs Northwestern/Indiana
Time : 1:30 PM Saturday
B1G Softball Championship Game vs WI/MI/ILL
Time 4PM Saturday