When the 64-team field for the NCAA softball championship is announced at 9 p.m., it will be an historic night for the state of Louisiana.
For the first time in the championship’s 36-year history, four teams from Louisiana will be a part of the field.
Louisiana is no stranger to softball success, thanks in large part to one person – Hall of Fame coach Yvette Girouard, who brought success to the sport at both the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL Lafayette) and LSU.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, winners of the Sun Belt Conference, will make their 27th appearance in 28 years in the tournament. The Tigers are a lock to land an at-large berth, which will mark their 19th appearance in 20 years.
This will mark the 18th time in 19 years that both schools are part of the field – the only exception was 2005, when LSU missed out – but remarkably in that span, no more than one Louisiana school has joined the Cajuns and Tigers in softball’s version of the “big dance.”
That changes this year. McNeese State will make its first-ever back-to-back trips to the tournament as the Southland Conference champion, while Louisiana Tech is back in the field for the first time since 2008 after winning the Conference USA tournament on Saturday.
This will be the 23rd straight year Louisiana sends multiple teams to the NCAA softball championship. Most times, it has been two teams advancing, but seven times (in 1999, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014 and last year), three teams reached the field.
Much like the baseball championship, the field is broken into 16 four-team regionals, with the top seeds hosting. The regional winners advance to best-of-three super regionals the following weekend.
The biggest difference in the baseball and softball brackets is the seeding process. While baseball only seeds the top eight schools and prohibits No. 1 seeds from the same conference to meet in super regionals, softball ranks the top 16 teams, with the top overall seed facing No. 16 in the super regionals, No. 2 against No. 15 and so on.
It’s not out of the question that all four schools could be in the same bracket come Sunday night. The last RPI numbers released by the NCAA on Monday – prior to tournament play this week – had LSU at No. 15, UL Lafayette at No. 19, McNeese at No. 49 and Tech at No. 97.
With LSU’s run to the SEC tournament final, Beth Torina’s club should have solidified a host spot. Did the Cajuns’ run to another Sun Belt title do enough to get Michael Lotief’s squad into the committee’s top 16 and a regional host, or will they have to travel – perhaps the short 50-mile trip across the Atchafalaya basin?
The answers will come when the bracket is announced Sunday night.