The College of St. Scholastica and the city of Duluth, Minn. will host the 2011 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Softball Tournament this Friday and Saturday. For the first time in the league's history, this year's tournament champion will not only win a trophy, but will earn the UMAC's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
St. Scholastica is the tournament's top seed after having won the regular season conference championship last Friday. The Saints are 18-1 in UMAC play in 2011 and are currently riding a seven-game winning streak. St. Scholastica has won the last two conference tournaments, including last year's finale after defeating Northland College. This year's conference tournament has more weight, as the Saints would like to go back to the NCAA Tournament as an automatic qualifier after earning an independent bid in 2006.
Joining St. Scholastica in the four-team double elimination tournament field will be second-seeded University of Minnesota, Morris, No. 3 seed Northwestern College, and No. 4 seed Bethany Lutheran College.
Morris (15-6 UMAC) entered last year's tournament as the fourth seed, and will look to go deeper in this year's event behind the arm of Kaitlyn Randall, who leads all UMAC pitchers with 10 wins this season.
Northwestern (13-8 UMAC) has been a part of several UMAC softball tournaments as of late, but didn't make the championship game in 2010. Brittany Rodgers, who is amongst the league's top five in slugging percentage, hopes to change that and help her team punch their ticket to the big dance.
2011 represents Bethany Lutheran's first-ever berth into the postseason tournament after the Vikings posted a 12-9 UMAC record. Emily Rauchman leads Bethany Lutheran this season with a .394 batting average and 15 doubles.
Friday's first game featuring Minnesota-Morris and Northwestern kicks off at 10 a.m. with St. Scholastica and Bethany Lutheran playing immediately afterwards at 12 p.m. By the end of the tournament's first day, one of the four teams will have been eliminated. After Saturday's championship game, one team will advance to the NCAA Tournament, which begins on May 12 at eight eight-team regional sites before Salem, Va. hosts the finals on May 20-24.
Visit www.umacathletics.com to access the UMAC Tournament web page for more information on tickets, directions, and a full bracket.