On Friday (6:30 P.M.), the #5-seeded Missouri Tigers (46-7) begin post-season play by taking on the Illinois State Redbirds (35-17), who under Head Coach Melinda Fischer, are appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, having received an at-large invitation, after winning the regular-season title of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Missouri been chosen to host an NCAA Regional for the third straight season.
The Big 12 Conference led all conferences with eight teams in the tournament, while the Southeastern Conference and Pac-10 each placed seven teams in the 64-team field.
Chelsea Thomas (27-5, 0.81 ERA, 10.87 K/7 innings, .145 opponents BA) finished the regular season tied with California's Jolene Henderson for the nation best ERA, and was just named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, and a First-Team All-Big 12 selection. Thomas is one of 10 finalists for USA Softball's Collegiate Player of the Year Award.
For the second time as Mizzou's head coach, Ehren Earleywine was selected as the Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Senior catcher Megan Christopher was named Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year.
In addition to Thomas, Nicole Hudson (.342 BA, 11 HR, 44 RBI), Abby Vock (.326 BA) and Jenna Marston (.338 BA) were also named First-Team All-Big 12.
Senior CF Rhea Taylor (.350 BA, 34-36 stolen base attempts) and Ashley Fleming (.372 BA, 12 HR, 55 RBI) were each named to the All-Big 12 Second Team.
The Tigers have defeated Illinois State three times this season, by a combined score of 27-2.
Coach Earleywine said Sunday night that he is considering starting Kristin Nottelmann (15-1, 1.51 ERA, 7.8 K/7 innings, .173 opponents BA) against Illinois State. Nottelmann has beaten Illinois State twice this season, including a one-hit shutout in mid-March.
Illinois State comes in with an NCAA RPI of #40, which as the lowest seeded team in the regional, makes the Columbia Regional one of the stronger ones in the Tournament. The Redbirds feature Jordan Birch (17-6, 2.89 ERA, 7.7 K/7 innings, .232 opponents BA) and Megan Warner (14-6, 2.76 ERA, .229 opponents BA) in the circle, and are paced offensively by Kara Nelson (.407), Jhavon Hamilton (.358), Liz Andrews (.338), Lauren Keller (.306), Abby Olson (.303 BA, 14 HR), and Elizabeth Kay (.276 BA, 14 HR).
Described as a "bubble team" by DePaul coach Eugene Lenti, DePaul (39-18) will face Big 10 power Indiana (37-16) at 4 p.m. Friday.
"It's great for our players that all their hard work and effort has been rewarded," Lenti said. "By no means was it a sure thing that we were getting in.
The Blue Demons have beaten Indiana and Illinois State this season, but did not face Missouri. This is the 14th time DePaul has qualified for the NCAA Championship tournament in the last 15 years. The Blue Demons have advanced to the Women's College World Series four times.
DePaul's top player is freshman pitcher Kirsten Verdun (22-3, 2.24 ERA), who was named the Big East Freshman of the Year. She's also one of the Blue Demons' top offensive players (.326 BA, 11 HR, 42 RBI). Pitcher Lindsey Dean (10-6, 1.80 ERA) also gets plenty of work for DePaul, and may be considered their ace. Alex Morocco (.399 BA), Sean Plese (.404 BA), Samantha Dodd (.335 BA, 5 HR, 32 RBI), Allie Braden (.319 BA), Megan Coronado (.310 BA), and Lindsey Ciezki (.302 BA) are Coach Lenti's other major contributors on offense.
Coach Lenti has a relatively young team that has gotten better throughout the season.
The Blue Demons are a familiar foe for the Indiana Hoosiers, as the two teams squared off on Feb. 18 in Tampa, Fla., with DePaul coming out on top by a score of 7-3. DePaul also leads the all-time series with the Hoosiers, 7-4.
"We are absolutely thrilled to have Indiana back in the NCAA Tournament," said Indiana head coach Michelle Gardner. "It will be a great opportunity for our team and we look forward to preparing for it this weekend."