COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri softball didn’t get an invite to the party in its backyard last week, but playing in the nation’s toughest conference was enough for the Tigers to get a bid to the big dance.
The NCAA Tournament field, announced Sunday night, will include Mizzou (28-27, 6-17 Southeastern Conference) for a 12th straight season. The Tigers were placed in the Norman Regional, hosted by back-to-back national champion Oklahoma, and will play Tulsa (33-23) in their first game at 3:30 p.m. Friday. The game will be streamed online on ESPN3.
“It’s big,” Missouri coach Gina Fogue said. “You want to continue that tradition that you’ve built here. It’s huge for us to get the opportunity to start fresh here in the postseason.”
The Tigers made the national bracket despite being the only Southeastern Conference team to not make the conference tournament, which was held at the Mizzou Softball Stadium last week. Florida won it by beating South Carolina 3-1 Saturday night.
A number of Missouri players attended SEC tournament games at their home field, where they took in the action as a group from the outfield berm. Fogue said the team got four practices in last week with the belief they would soon be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was emotional,” Fogue said about her team missing the chance to play at home in the SEC Tournament. “We were all frustrated and disappointed, you expect that. We played three solid games against Florida (in the last series of the regular season), but we missed some opportunities earlier this year. I told our girls we gotta move on. Our season is not going to be over.”
All 13 SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. The top-to-bottom strength of the conference gave Missouri one of the nation’s toughest schedules, and the Tigers entered Sunday night ranked No. 23 in the Ratings Percentage Index. The highest-ranked team in RPI to not get a bid was Florida Gulf Coast at No. 33.
Missouri could face two of their former players, Paige Lowary and Parker Conrad, in Norman. Lowary pitched for Missouri from 2015-16 and made the all-SEC freshman team in her first season in Columbia but announced her decision to transfer to Oklahoma on July 15, 2016. Conrad left Missouri in June and joined the Sooners in August.
Last season with the Sooners, Lowary went 16-3 and set new career lows in ERA (1.53) and opposing batting average (.163).
This season Lowary went 7-1 and led the Big 12 with a 0.80 ERA while sharing time with Truman High School graduate Paige Parker, the four-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year. Lowary was the first overall selection in the National Pro Fastpitch League draft in April. Conrad, used mostly as a reliever in her first year at Oklahoma, struck out 27 over 30 ⅓ innings and posted a 0.89 ERA.
Oklahoma (47-3) is the tournament’s No. 4 overall seed and won the Big 12 Tournament on Saturday in Oklahoma City. The Sooners will play Patriot League champion Boston University (37-18) in their first game at 6 p.m. Friday. The Terriers were one of three teams to beat Oklahoma this season, taking down the Sooners 4-3 on Feb. 17 in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Missouri’s opponent Tulsa (33-23) features Blue Springs South High School graduate Shannon Hughes, a senior infielder.
One team advances from each of the 16 regional sites to Super Regionals. Eight teams advance from Super Regionals to the Women’s College World Series from May 31-June 6 in Oklahoma City.