MCGILL: Body Of Work Helps @HerdSB Earn At-Large Bid
The Word on the Herd -- May 15, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Marshall University softball team gathered to watch Sunday night’s NCAA Selection Show on ESPN2. Some players took a seat on a couch, others on the floor, and all fixated on the analysts as the brackets were revealed.
Finally, at 10:19 p.m., and with more than half of the regional pairings unveiled, “Marshall” flashed on the screen. The Herd had earned an at-large invitation to this week’s NCAA Regionals.
Angst turned into euphoria.
“Oh my gosh, I freaked out,” said Shaelynn Braxton, a senior who was on the 2013 team that earned an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. “It was surreal. I think this one hit me even more than my freshman year because we knew we were going and we knew Kentucky was most likely the spot. This year, everything was up in the air. We didn’t know if we were going to be on the East Coast or go to the West Coast, but we’re only going two hours away. It’s absolutely amazing.”
There are 16 regions comprised of four teams each. One team in each region is seeded, and that is the host school. Marshall (41-10) will play Illinois (37-18) on Friday at noon at the University of Kentucky’s 1,500-seat John Cropp Stadium. Kentucky (36-17) is the No. 1 seed in the region and will play DePaul (29-21) on Friday at 2:30 p.m.
Marshall’s opening game will be televised by ESPN2. That is the fate Herd coach Shonda Stanton envisioned for this team.
“Obviously, everybody was a little bit nervous,” Stanton said. “When you don’t take care of business your fate is left in somebody else’s hands, but we felt our body of work spoke for itself. What I really wanted was for an opportunity for these athletes to be able to show themselves on a national stage because we believe in this group so much.”
The at-large bid is a significant achievement. The Marshall softball program advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history in 2013 after winning the C-USA tournament. That version of the Herd punched an automatic ticket, so the selection night uncertainty revolved around opponent and destination.
This year’s at-large berth, however, is another step for the program. There are 16 regions made up of four teams, and only half of those 64 teams – 32 – receive an at-large invitation. That means the selection committee was more impressed by Marshall’s body of work – the wins, the national ranking, the RPI – than a couple of hiccups at the conference tournament two days before the NCAA field was announced.
Marshall entered the C-USA tournament as regular season champion and top overall seed, but lost consecutive games Friday – to NCAA-bound teams Florida International and Louisiana Tech – to set up Sunday’s selection suspense.
“We didn’t have a great Conference USA tournament,” Stanton said, “and we didn’t want that to be a nail in the coffin. I started to look at it Friday and when I was combing over the numbers I did not see any margin of error for us to sneak in.”
Marshall will make a 128-mile trek west for regionals, and the stadium will be a familiar one. The Herd was scheduled to play at Kentucky on April 11, and waited through a lengthy weather delay before the game was called off and not rescheduled. Still, there is value to the game that wasn’t played.
“Everybody has had a chance to see the layout of the field and they’ve seen the stadium,” Braxton said. “We’re not going to see anything new.”
Scott Hall, Marshall’s associate sports information director, recorded a 38-second video of the team celebrating in the wake of Sunday night’s announcement. Braxton said the room was quiet in the moments before Marshall became the third C-USA team to make the field. Screaming and hugs ensued.
“What I’m going to remember most is the excitement when you’re in a room and the aura of the room changes,” Braxton said. “Something happens and you can feel that feeling of excitement. As soon as we saw it on TV we all freaked out and I felt that feeling. I got chills.”
The University of Kentucky will be one of 16 regional host sites for the 2017 NCAA Division I Softball Championship. The double-elimination tournament will be played at John Cropp Stadium starting on Friday, May 19 and running through Sunday, May 21. The full schedule is below.
Tickets go on sale Monday, May 15, at 9 a.m. All-session reserved chairback seats are $40, and general admission (bleachers) are $25. Those tickets are good for the duration (six or seven games) of the three-day regional. Single-session tickets are $15 for reserved chairbacks, $10 for general admission (bleachers) for ages 18-64, and $8 for general admission (bleachers) for youth (ages 2-18) and seniors (65 and older).
Fans can purchase tickets by clicking on the following link:
Session 1: Friday, May 19
Game 1: Illinois vs. Marshall, noon
Game 2: DePaul vs. Kentucky, 2:30 p.m.
Session 2: Saturday, May 20
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2
Game 4: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2
Game 5: Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4
Session 3: Sunday, May 21
Game 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5
Game 7: If necessary