Missouri softball squeaks into 12th straight NCAA Tournament

The Tigers will head to Oklahoma’s regional to face Tulsa in their first round game.
Infielder Amanda Sanchez during a game against Drake University on March 4, 2018.

The anxious wait, the conference record vs. RPI debate and all the speculation is over for Missouri softball; the Tigers have earned a bid for the 2018 NCAA tournament.

In the tournament’s televised selection special late Sunday night, Missouri was announced as the No. 2 seed of four teams in the Norman regional hosted by the University of Oklahoma.

Speculation had circulated regarding whether the Tigers would make the field after they were not even able to qualify for the Southeastern Conference Tournament in their own backyard, but their season will continue on the national stage for the 12th straight year, this time under first-year head coach Gina Fogue.

Missouri will play Tulsa in its first game in the Norman regional. Joining those two teams in the double elimination style quartet are Boston and Oklahoma.

Tulsa, the No. 3 seed in the group, has an overall record of 33-23 and is ranked No. 59 in the RPI. If the Tigers prevail in that clash, they will likely face the hosting Oklahoma Sooners, two-time defending national champions and the No. 4 overall seed in the 64-team tournament.

Along with winning the College World Series the past two years, the Sooners haven’t missed the NCAA Tournament in 24 seasons. They have won their regional and advanced to a Super Regional in the last eight of those trips.

The Tigers barely made the tournament with a record of 28-27 that included a 6-17 finish in their conference slate. Missouri canceled its final nonconference series against the Wichita Shockers due to bad weather, then picked up a home series sweep against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

But in Missouri’s final conference game of the season, a blown seventh inning lead to Florida punctuated by a climactic three-run homer lost the series finale and secured the team’s spot in the cellar of the SEC standings. Missoiuri was the only team not able to qualify for the conference tournament, a single-elimination bracket ironically hosted on Missouri’s home field in Columbia this season.

With the last place Tigers’ inclusion, all 13 teams in the SEC made the tournament for the second straight year. The conference is regarded as the nation’s best in collegiate softball, a title that may have helped Missouri on its way to making the field.

The strength of the Tigers’ schedule, in spite of a conference mark more than 10 games below .500, established the program just enough to earn the committee’s recognition. Missouri is ranked No. 23 in the RPI, a scale relied on heavily by NCAA Tournament selection committees. Of the 13 SEC teams, nine are the top seeds and therefore hosts of their respective regionals.

Missouri was reportedly not even among the last four teams to make the tournament with an at-large bid. Those final spots were given to Notre Dame, Houston, South Florida and Wisconsin.

The Tigers’ tournament opener against the Tulsa Hurricanes will be Friday, May 18 at 3:30 p.m. It will be available for live stream online at ESPN3. The winner will play the winner of Oklahoma and Boston, while the losers will meet in an elimination game. Missouri must be defeated twice to be eliminated from the regional.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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