Michigan Softball opens vs. Kentucky in 2024 NCAA Tournament

Michigan softball begins the 2024 NCAA Tournament by taking on Kentucky on Friday at 3:00 PM (ESPN2) in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The Wolverines’ draw could go a long way to furthering the argument for the Big Ten’s potential 2025 rise to second place in college softball (behind the SEC, which placed all 13 schools in this year’s 64-team field) .

After winning the Big Ten Tournament and finishing second during the regular season, the Wolverines (41-16) will begin the NCAA Tournament by taking on the SEC’s No. 12.eplace team, the Kentucky Wildcats (30-22). Should UM win, a tougher challenge likely awaits in 5-seed Oklahoma State (44-10).

OSU finished third in the Big 12 regular season and is poised to top the conference with the impending departure of Texas and Oklahoma — this year’s top two seeds — for the SEC. (The Big Ten, meanwhile, will add Oregon, UCLA and Washington, all of which made the tournament.) OSU will open its tournament against Northern Colorado Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Stillwater. The winners of Friday’s matches will play on Saturday, while the losers will also face each other in an elimination match on Saturday.

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But first the Wolverines have to get past Kentucky. The Wildcats went 8-16 in conference play before falling to Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC tournament last week. Kentucky features a trio of sluggers in Erin Coffel (1.260 OPS), Grace Lorsung (1.015 OPS) and Rylea Smith (.961 OPS). In the pitching circle, the Wildcats will rely on Stephanie Schoonover, who posted a 2.76 ERA in 34 appearances and struck out 169 in 159⅔ innings.

In a matchup of common opponents, the Wolverines went 2-0 against Florida – the SEC tournament champions who finished as the fourth seed in the NCAA field – with a 2-1 win in February (in Tampa, Florida) and a 10-2 (5 inn.) win in March (at Fullerton, California). Kentucky, meanwhile, dropped all three conference games against the Gators, falling by a combined score of 26-4 in Gainesville, Florida, in late March.

The Wolverines bounced back from missing the NCAA Tournament in head coach Bonnie Tholl’s first season, posting a 41-16 record after going 26-25 in 2022-2023. This season had two major speed bumps. First, there was a tough trip to California in late February and early March, with five straight losses, capped by a 10-0 loss in six innings against eventual NCAA regional host UCLA on March 1.

The Wolverines went on to win 14 of their next 16 games before stumbling during a visit to Northwestern (the Big Ten regular-season champions and another NCAA team); UM dropped all three games in Evanston by a combined score of 24-10. Since that weekend in April, however, UM is 17-2, with its only losses coming in the final series of the regular season against Ohio State in Ann Arbor. That streak included three Big Ten Tournament games in which they defeated Maryland, Wisconsin and Indiana by a combined score of 20-5, with rallies in the final two wins.

The catalysts for the Big Ten tournament run were slugger Keke Tholl (Bonnie’s niece), who drove in five runs over the three games, and pitcher Lauren Derkowski, who went all 19 innings of the tournament and struck out 20 en route to winning Most Outstanding. Player Awards in Iowa City. Tholl led the Wolverines with 15 home runs this season (including a key blast in the Big Ten semifinals), while third baseman Maddie Erickson posted a 1.010 OPS with 11 home runs and a team-high 45 RBIs.

Contact Ryan Ford at [email protected]. Follow him on X (which used to be Twitter, you know?) @theford.