For the first time in program history, the McKendree University softball team will be part of the 64-team field for the NCAA Division II Softball Championship.
The Bearcats had their ticket punched to the tournament Monday when the NCAA revealed the participants in the 16 regional tournaments to be held across the country this week.
McKendree (38-16) earned the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region and will be heading to Springfield, Ill., as part of the four-team Midwest Region 2 bracket. The Bearcats will play sixth-seeded Missouri-St. Louis (33-22) at 11 a..m. Thursday at Land of Lincoln Softball Complex.
“I’m very excited and very proud of our team,” McKendree coach Ashley Fleming said. “We had a little bit of a bump in the road toward the end of the season, but when you look at our full body of work throughout the course of the season, they deserved a chance to be in the tournament.
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"They have worked hard all season long and it shows by what they have been able to accomplish so far. It’s exciting also that this team is the first to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field. We’re looking forward to preparing this weekend and then going up to Springfield to give it the best we have.”
McKendree is in the midst of its best season since becoming full NCAA Division II members in the fall of 2013.
McKendree went 20-8 in Great Lakes Valley Conference play. The Bearcats were ranked No. 25 in the latest National Fast-Pitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division II poll and held the No. 3 spot in the final regular-season Midwest Region ranking.
The University of Illinois at Springfield is serving as the host of the Midwest Region 2 Regional. The Prairie Stars— ranked No. 18 in the NFCA Division II poll — are the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. Rounding out the four-team bracket is seventh-seeded Saginaw Valley State University.
Illinois Springfield (36-16) will take on Saginaw Valley State (28-25) in the other first-round contest at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The four-team, double-elimination regional will conclude on Saturday.
The Bearcats have faced all three teams this season. McKendree took three of four games from Saginaw Valley State on March 7-8 in Lebanon. On March 10 in St. Louis, the Bearcats split a GLVC doubleheader with Missouri-St. Louis. On March 31, Illinois Springfield took both ends of a conference twinbill from McKendree in games played at Glenwood High School in Chatham, Ill.