The Minnesota Golden Gophers softball team will play in its first home NCAA Tournament regional since 2014 and will look to advance to its second ever NCAA Super Regional this weekend. The Gophers will begin their double elimination regional Friday night at 8:30 against North Dakota State while Drake and Georgia will face off in the first game Friday at 6PM.
Minnesota is in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive season, and are the #7 overall national seed. That is the highest the Gophers have ever been seeded in the NCAA Tournament. This is the first time since 2014 that the Gophers have been selected to host a home regional, and not coincidentally Minnesota’s only regional win came in...2014. But the NCAA did not give Minnesota an easy trip to the Super Regionals. Minnesota will host the most competitive region out of the 16. The average RPI of the four teams in the Minneapolis Regional is just under 25, which is nearly ten points higher than the next toughest region. The Minneapolis regional is the only one in the country that will have all four teams with 40 wins or more. If Minnesota wants to advance to their first ever home Super Regional, they will need to prove they deserve it.
Another factor all four teams will need to deal with this weekend will be the weather. Rain is forecasted later Friday evening and there is a 100% chance of rain on both Saturday and Sunday. Trying to get in at minimum six games and potentially seven over the next three days is going to be very complicated, and most likely will be very taxing on teams pitching staffs. That could be more detrimental to teams like Minnesota and Drake who rely on one ace pitcher and get by with the rest of their staffs, while teams like Georgia have multiple pitchers who have competed against top level competition and can more easily shoulder the load of tightly spaced games.
Here is a preview of all four teams in the regional:
Minnesota Golden Gophers— 41-12 (20-2 in the Big Ten) RPI: 9
The Gophers earned the national #7 seed by going 41-12 on the season..and playing one of the ten toughest schedules in the nation. Minnesota played non-conference games this season against the teams that enter the NCAA Tournament as the #4, #5, #6, #8, #9, #11 and #12 seeded teams. Minnesota only defeated #9 Texas twice in that schedule, but they got a lot of experience playing top teams. Additionally Minnesota play #15 seed Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game, and played #16 seed Northwestern four times this season going 3-1. The Gophers finished in third place in the Big Ten regular season one half game behind Northwestern and then took second in the Big Ten tournament with a 3-2 loss to the Wolverines in the Championship Game.
Minnesota is led in the circle by Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Amber Fiser. This season Fiser is 26-7 with three saves, a 1.24 ERA and 301 strikeouts. Her ERA and strikeout numbers lead the Big Ten. She is 15th in the country in ERA, tenth in wins and fifth in strikeouts.
On offense Minnesota has the table setters and the big sticks to bring them home. Makenna Partain hits leadoff for the Gophers and needs just three runs in the NCAA Tournament to set the Minnesota record for most runs in a season with 66. She leads the Gophers with a .407 average and has 16 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 13 stolen bases this season.
Natalie DenHartog and Hope Brander are the big bats behind her in the lineup. DenHartog is one of the ten finalists for the NCAA Freshman of the Year after beginning the season coming off the bench. This season she has hit .392 with 15 doubles, two triples and 16 home runs. Her 59 RBIs led the Big Ten and is good enough for 13th in the nation. Brandner is a transfer from Oregon State . She has stepped in at first base and filled the power void in the Gopher lineup after the transfer of two time Big Ten Player of the Year Kendyl Lindaman to Florida. Brander is batting .357 with eight doubles, 56 RBI and 18 home runs. Her 18 home runs leave her just two short of Lindaman’s single season school record set last season.
North Dakota State Bison—42-14 (16-2 in the Summit League) RPI: 44
North Dakota State earned the Summit League’s berth to the NCAA Tournament. They went 16-2 in regular season play to win the regular season title and then defeated South Dakota twice to win the Summit League Tournament. They are making their 10th trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last 11 seasons. NDSU has played nine teams this season in the 2019 NCAA tournament field and have compiled a 3-8 record – #3-seed Washington (0-1), #16-seed Northwestern (0-1), Arkansas (0-1), Auburn (0-2), Chattanooga (1-0), Notre Dame (0-1), Seattle University (2-0), Southern Illinois (0-1), and Stanford (0-1).
In the circle the Bison are led by KK Leddy the Summit League Pitcher of the Year. Leddy is 22-8 on the season with three saves. She has an 2.22 ERA with 174 strikeouts and has allowed just 31 earned runs on the season. Paige Vargas is the Bison’s second pitcher and was named the Summit League’s Freshman of the Year She is 17-4 on the season with a 2.27 ERA and 107 strikeouts.
Offensively NDSU is led by Summit League Player of the Year Katie Shoultz. She elads the Bison with a .395 batting average and has scored a team best 40 runs. Catcher Maddie Hansen is the big bat for the Bison. She leads the team with 12 home runs, ten doubles and 45 RBI on the season.
Drake Bulldogs—42-24 (24-2 in the Missouri Valley) RPI: 22
Drake ran through the Summit League regular season with a 24-2 record and then swept the MVC Tournament to earn the NCAA Tournament automatic bid. They are making their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Drake has played twelve games against teams in the 2019 NCAA Tournament field and are 1-11 with their lone win coming against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Drake is 0-2 against Minnesota this season with the Gophers winning both games at a tournament in Tucson, Arizona in March.
The Bulldogs are led in the circle by one of the best pitchers in the nation. Senior Nicole Newman is a finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award. The right-hander has recorded a 0.88 ERA and 28-6 record. She has allowed just 74 hits, 26 earned runs and has struck out 393 batters. She has pitched five perfect games and two no-hitters this season! She is second in the nation in ERA and first in strikeouts. She took the loss in both games to Minnesota.
Offensively Drake is led by Mandi Roemmich who is hitting .385 with a team high 50 runs. She has recorded 70 hits, 32 RBIs and 12 doubles. Kennedy Frank is batting .327 with 27 runs, 49 hits, 10 doubles and 40 RBIs.
Georgia Bulldogs—40-17 (12-12 in the SEC) RPI:26
The Georgia Bulldogs earned an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. They went 40-17 overall this season but just 12-12 in the uber competetive SEC which was good enough for a tie for sixth place. Georgia is making their 18th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Georgia is 15-15 this season against teams who qualified for the 2019 NCAA Tournament, which includes every single SEC game as for the second season in a row all 13 SEC teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia brings a very balanced pitching staff to the regional. They have four pitchers who have started more than ten games this season. Kylie Bass leads the Bulldogs with a 12-4 record and a 1.96 ERA in 93 innings. Mary Wilson Avant is 9-4 with a 2.50 ERA in 92.1 innings. Alley Cutting is 10-4 with a 2.60 ERA in 89 innings and Lauren Mathis is 8-4 with a 2.64 ERA in 69 innings.
Offensively the Bulldogs are led by NCAA Player of the Year Finalist Alissa DiCarlo. She leads Georgia in most offensive categories and is batting .391 with 14 doubles and 21 home runs, 61 runs, 61 hits and 54 RBI on the season. Ciara Bryan is hitting .329 with ten home runs and 34 RBI.
Regional Schedule (subject to changes due to weather)
Game 1: Georgia vs Drake - 6:00pm ESPN 2
Game 2: Minnesota vs North Dakota State: 8:30pm ESPN 3
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs Game 2 winner: 3:00pm
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs Game 2 loser: 5:30pm
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs Game 4 winner: 8:00pm
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs Game 5 winner: 3:00pm
Game 7 (if necessary): Game 6 winner vs Game 6 loser: 5:30pm
TV for Saturday and Sunday will be announced the day of the games. All games will stream on ESPN3/WatchESPN.
Keep an eye on The Daily Gopher twitter account for updates on TV for Saturday/Sunday games and for any schedule changes due to weather.