Thirteen proved lucky for the Texas A&M softball team and the Southeastern Conference as the Aggies were one of the last teams selected for the NCAA tournament.
A&M (28-25) will play Houston (37-17) at 1 p.m. Friday in the Austin Regional. Host Texas (41-14), the No. 9 national seed, will play Sam Houston State (34-21) at 4 p.m.
This will be A&M’s 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance, one that was in jeopardy after the Aggies lost to Mississippi State 3-2 on Wednesday in the first game of the SEC tournament.
“It’s quite a streak we have going,” A&M coach Jo Evans said. “I’m proud of our ballclub. It’s a young group, and this will be a great experience for us, something we really need to [experience to] develop our program with these young players.”
As the No. 15 national seed a year ago, A&M came within an out of reaching the Women’s College World Series, but that 44-18 team was gutted by graduation and players either transferring or quitting the sport.
This year’s team, which has only one senior and eight freshmen, finished last in the 13-team SEC, but that was good enough for the Aggies make the tournament. A&M was one of the last teams to get an at-large bid to the 64-team field along with Southern Illinois, Boise State and Houston.
This is the third straight year for the SEC, the country’s top-rated league, to place all 13 teams in the tournament. A&M was 7-17 in league play, matching the number of victories of the last two 13th-place finishers — Georgia in 2017 and Missouri last year, but they both had Top 35 rankings in the NCAA RPI, one of the things the NCAA selection committee uses in determining the field. A&M had an RPI of 45 heading into the SEC tournament. Boise State was No. 33, UH No. 39 and Southern Illinois No. 42.
Evans was confident her team would make the field.
“I think we have some quality wins,” said Evans after the loss to Mississippi State, adding they’d won their last 13 nonconference games and had proven they can compete against the best. A&M has six victories over Top 25 teams, including handling Alabama its first loss after the Crimson Tide had opened the season by winning 33 straight.
There will be a lot of familiar faces in Austin.
A&M played Houston and Sam Houston State this season, losing 9-3 to the Cougars on Feb. 27 and taking a doubleheader from Sam Houston State at Davis Diamond on March 27, 4-3 and 5-4.
“Houston, is always really tough,” Evans said. “We went there and really kind of struggled in that game, so we’re looking forward to getting the opportunity to play them again.”
SHSU also has played Texas and Houston, which is the second seed in the group. The Cougar finished third in the American Athletic Conference behind South Florida and Tulsa.
A&M since joining the SEC in 2013 has played Texas three times in the NCAA tournament. The two met in the Lafayette (Louisiana) Regional in 2016. Texas grabbed a 5-0 victory in the first round, but A&M won an elimination game 9-3. Then in 2017 the Aggies beat UT 3-1 to win the College Station Region-al.
A&M hasn’t played at Austin’s McCombs Field since 2012. That was A&M’s last season in the Big 12, when it lost a pair of one-run games following a 9-0 victory at home.
“It’s going to be fun to go to Austin. A lot of our kids have played on that field for high school state tournaments,” Evans said. “We’re obviously familiar with almost every player on the rosters, so it’s going to be a fun Texas shoot-out.”
Sam Houston State was the Southland Conference regular-season winner and also won the tournament.
“We couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to play at Texas, to open up at their place, a place we have already been this year, so we understand the environment,” SHSU coach Garrett Valis said. “It will be pretty cool. We have some kids from that area and a lot of them have seen those kids, played against them in high school and tournament ball, so there will also be some familiarity with U of H and A&M there as well.”
This is SHSU’s second trip to the tournament. In 2007 the Bearkats were sent to A&M, losing a pair to the Aggies sandwiched around a victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Austin Regional is matched up with the Tuscaloosa (Alabama) Regional, where SEC regular-season champ Alabama is the No. 8 seed.
NOTES — The A&M-UH games will be on ESPN3. ... Florida, which was seeded sixth for the league tournament, is the No. 5 national seed. Other SEC teams hosting regionals are No. 12 Tennessee, No. 13 Ole Miss and No. 14 Kentucky. … Louisiana-Lafayette, which includes outfielders Sarah Hudek and Keeli Milligan, a pair of transfers from A&M, was sent to Ole Miss. … Oklahoma State, which is the No. 13 seed, has A&M transfer Samantha Show (17-7, 2.47 ERA) as its best pitcher and she’s also one of the top hitters at .335 with 17 homers and 50 RBIs. … The NCAA selection committee’s first four teams out (with NCAA RPI) were No. 41 Oregon State, No. 48 Indiana, No. 47 San Jose State and No. 43 UNLV. … ESPN’s selection show was from Davis Diamond because the crew wasn’t able to get out after Saturday night’s SEC title game.