Monday, May 09, 2011

UMD, St. Scholastica Softball Qualify for NCAA Tournaments

The spring sports seasons for local college and high school programs have started to wind down, which means it's tournament time.

While you'd think the Northland wouldn't be known for producing competitive baseball and softball programs (given the challenges provided by our oft-crappy climate), area schools have done quite well in recent years, especially in softball.

This spring has been no exception. St. Scholastica won their 15th straight UMAC baseball title and the right to host the league postseason championship, and UMD went on a late run to nab a spot in the NSIC Tournament. Both of those events take place this weekend.

Meanwhile, college softball has moved into national tournament play. Two of the three Twin Ports college teams qualified for national tournaments.

In Division II, UMD was selected to the 64-team field as an at-large entry. The Bulldogs are part of a four-team regional that will be played in Sioux Falls and hosted by NSIC rival Augustana. UMD (31-15) will play Colorado School of Mines in their opening game Thursday afternoon. Augustana won the NSIC regular-season and playoff titles, and they will play Regis (Colorado) in the other opening-round game. The double-elimination tournament runs through the weekend, with the winner moving on to a best-of-three Super Regional series the following weekend.

The NCAA Division II World Series starts May 26 in Salem, Va.

For the first time this year, the UMAC postseason title included an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament, and St. Scholastica won that crown at home over the weekend, beating Northwestern 6-4. The Saints (28-13) were placed in an eight-team regional in Eau Claire that starts Thursday and runs through either Sunday or Monday. CSS will play Luther (Iowa) in the opening round. That tournament is also double-elimination, with the winner moving into the NCAA Division III World Series that starts May 20, also in Salem.

UMD has experienced an extremely successful year in sports, with two national championships (football, men's hockey), as well as seeing the volleyball and women's hockey teams make the NCAA Tournament. It's great to see the softball program following that blueprint. Coach Jen Banford has led UMD to the NCAAs in three of her six years at the helm, marking three of the school's five NCAA appearances in history.

This is CSS' second trip to the NCAAs, having made it as an at-large entry in 2006.

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