A long trip through North Dakota to finish the regular season, then finals week, took a toll on the Minnesota State softball team, which only went 2-2 at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament last weekend.
But now with a couple of days to rest, physically and mentally, Minnesota State coach Lori Meyer said her team is ready to start the NCAA tournament.
“I think we’re in a good spot now,” Meyer said. “It’s a hectic time of the year, but we’ve been able to get some rest. We play in a tough conference.”
The Mavericks (46-12), who were seeded fourth, will open play in the NCAA Central Region on Thursday, facing No. 5 Washburn (45-13) at 2 p.m. at Claremore, Okla.
No. 1-seeded Rogers State (47-9), the host of the four-team, double-elimination sub-regional, will face Winona State (38-15) in the other half of the bracket.
In the other sub-regional, which will be played at Edmond, Okla., No. 2-seeded Central Oklahoma (45-10) will face Southern Arkansas (37-16), and No. 3 Augustana (47-8) will play Arkansas Tech (39-17).
“We’re on of 64 teams still playing and not putting our stuff away,” Meyer said. “It’s a new season; anything can happen.”
The Mavericks will be making their 18th NCAA Tournament appearance and 17th under coach Meyer. Minnesota State is 39-37 in NCAA games, including a national championship in 2017.
The Mavericks are averaging 5.2 runs per game, but after scoring right runs in the first game of the Northern Sun tournament, Minnesota State scored only four times in the next three games.
The team is batting .307, led by Ellie Tallman at .397. The Mavericks have hit 30 home runs, with Madi Newman hitting seven and Sydney Nielsen hitting six. Newman has a team-high 45 RBIs.
Mackenzie Ward is 28-4 this season with a 0.91 earned-run average. She has 313 strikeouts in 208 1/3 innings and opponent are batting .141.
“She’s our ace, our workhorse,” Meyer said. “She’s been here before.
“All 64 teams are good so it’s a matter of playing your best ball. For us, that’s timely hitting and good defense.”
Bethany Lutheran had a chance to host the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference tournament, but a loss to Wisconsin-Superior in the final regular-season game moved that event north. The Vikings got revenge by defeating Wisconsin-Superior 1-0 in the tournament championship game to secure an NCAA berth.
“We were pretty disappointed that we couldn’t host the tournament,” Bethany coach Dan Nessler said. “But to go up there and win it, that was fun.”
Bethany Lutheran (29-14), which won its first UMAC tournament championship since 2013, will face MIAC champion Bethel (33-4) in the opening round of the NCAA III tournament. The game is scheduled for Friday at 4:30 p.m.
In the other half of the sub-regional bracket, Buena Vista (26-13) will face Washington University (30-10).
Freshman Kayla Senne has emerged as the Vikings’ No. 1 pitcher, throwing a shutout in the UMAC championship game. She is 20-10 with a 2.54 earned-run average and 178 strikeouts in 160 innings.
Kaija Mork, who was voted the UMAC’s top freshman, leads the team with a .431 batting average, and she hit four home runs with 46 RBIs. Zoe Kinakin also had 46 RBIs and batted .411. Katelyn Halbach batted .413.
“The girls are excited, and we don’t have far to go,” Nessler said. “We know we’re going to have our hands full, but when you get to a regional, all the teams are good. We think we’re pretty good, too. I like where we’re at, we’re athletic, young, we have some speed. We just have to go up there and play good ball.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.