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'We have a job in front of us': UM softball to open NCAA tourney against South Dakota State

The Michigan softball team had to wait until the very end of the selection show to hear where the Wolverines will be headed in the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan was the last name announced Sunday night in the 64-team field and will travel to Orlando to face South Dakota State at 3:30 p.m. Friday (ESPN-Plus) in the double-elimination regional hosted by No. 16 seed UCF. South Dakota State (40-11) won the Summit League championship, while UCF (46-12) is the American Athletic Conference champion (46-12). Michigan defeated UCF, 6-0, on Feb. 18.

“Maybe they know I’m really impatient, but we’ve been in the 16 bracket two years in a row now. It’s a long wait,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins told reporters Sunday night during a video conference. “We have a job in front of us. Everybody in the country right now is going to say the same thing. Nobody’s guaranteed anything being seeded or unseeded, being at home or not being at home. We have to play good softball.”

Also making the tournament with an automatic bid is Oakland University, the Horizon League champion, the program’s first title since 2015.

The Grizzlies will play at No. 9-seed Northwestern, the Big Ten regular-season champion and a regional host.

The No. 23 Wolverines (36-16) are coming off a loss in the Big Ten Tournament title game last Saturday to Nebraska after knocking off top seed Northwestern, the conference regular-season champion, in the semifinals. Michigan had won seven straight heading into the championshp game.

Seven Big Ten teams are in the tournament, with Northwestern the only team among the top 16 seeds.

“It says our league is as strong as we thought it was,” Hutchins said.

“It says the pitching in our league is helping us get ready for this part of the year. Every team has had a quality pitcher, at least one, on their staff. It’s given us fits at times, but those are the things that make you strong at the end of the year.”

The Wolverines are making their 29th NCAA Tournament appearance under Hutchins, in her 38th season as Michigan head coach. She is the winningest coach in college softball history (1,705-549-5).

Michigan has not hosted an NCAA Regional since 2019 and last advanced to the Super Regional in 2016, the last time it made a World Series appearance. The Wolverines have won 18 Regional titles and made the World Series 12 of the last 27 years. Hutchins led Michigan to the 2005 national title.

“We’re playing our best ball,” Hutchins said. “That’s all you can hope for. I hope we keep it up. Everybody was disappointed (with the Big Ten Tournament loss). We felt like it was a missed opportunity, but honestly, we can choose to dwell on it or as I said (after the game), we’re gonna wake up tomorrow, it’s gonna be yesterday, and we don’t focus on yesterday whether we won or lost. We could have won that whole thing, I don’t think it changes a thing. It doesn’t change our draw. We’re focused on now.”

The regional winners advance the Super Regionals the following weekend and the College World Series begins June 2 in Oklahoma City.

“This is deepest field, the toughest field I’ve ever seen,” Hutchins said. “There’s so many good teams.”

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Twitter: @chengelis