Just 24 hours after it lost to Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game, the Missouri softball team learned what’s next on Sunday evening. The Tigers are the No. 15 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins next weekend.
That means Mizzou will play its regional games in Columbia. Missouri State, Illinois and Arizona fill out the regional field. Missouri’s first game is against Missouri State on Friday at 1:00 on SEC Network. The Bears were 27-18 overall and won the Missouri Valley Conference championship. They faced two SEC teams this season, going a combined 0-3 against Arkansas and Texas A&M. Friday will mark the first meeting between Mizzou and Missouri State since 2014.
“It’s everyone’s dream to have an opportunity to host,” head coach Larissa Anderson said. “This is absolutely great for our players to be able to play in front of their home crowd. They absolutely deserve this opportunity.”
Should the Tigers emerge from the regional, they’ll almost certainly be on the road for Super Regional play. The bracket would match the Tigers up with No. 2 seed Florida State (52-5) in round two.
Missouri made it to the Super Regionals and hosted last year before losing to Cinderella James Madison. The Tigers entered this year as a top ten team and got off to a 17-3 start. But Mizzou hit a March skid. Tennessee won both games of a weather-shortened series to open SEC play and then Missouri went just 1-3 in its own March tournament.
Following a series loss to Georgia in mid-April, Mizzou stood just 5-9 in SEC play and 25-17 overall. Even making the NCAA Tournament seemed to be in some doubt. A sweep of Kentucky started an eight-game winning streak before Mizzou dropped the final two games of the regular season to Alabama.
“During the middle of the season, we didn’t think we were going to have this opportunity. Just to know we’re going to have the chance to come out and play in front of our home crowd again is amazing,” center fielder Brooke Wilmes said. “Our success recently, especially in the second half of the season, has really turned some heads and we were rewarded for that tonight.”
Saying the Tigers didn’t expect to have this opportunity isn’t hyperbole. Following a sweep by Ole Miss on March 25-27, Anderson had a meeting with her players.
“It was really that sticky at that moment. I said what are your goals because they have to change,” Anderson said. “I said you’re not gonna host. Let’s put that off the table.”
Instead, the Tigers were counting the number of games they’d have to win to get above .500 just to be eligible to be a part of the NCAA Tournament. They needed eight. Since that day, Missouri has gone 17-7. Not only are the Tigers in the tournament, but the road to the Super Regionals once again runs through Columbia.
The Tigers will try to continue the momentum from their second half surge in this weekend’s double elimination regional.
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