There’s a common joke among Texas A&M circles that says if Aggies do anything twice it’s a tradition.
The Aggie softball team is hoping the NCAA tournament selection committee believes the same logic.
Over the last two seasons, all 13 SEC softball teams made NCAA tournament’s field of 64. Entering this week’s SEC tournament as the No. 13 seed and exiting after one game on Wednesday, the Aggies have to pray it will be a third-straight season the full lot of SEC squads earn bids.
Naturally, head coach Jo Evans believes her squad belongs in the postseason tournament after the Aggies’ 3-2 exit from the SEC tournament at the hands of Mississippi State.
“I do think we should be,” Evans said. “I think we’ve got some really quality wins.”
To her point, A&M has six wins over teams ranked in the Top 25 in RPI.
The perfect case study is the 2018 Missouri squad, which finished with a 6-17 record in SEC play and a 30-19 overall record. A&M currently sits at 28-25 overall with a 6-18 conference record. The Tigers made the 2018 NCAA tournament field, pushing their way to a regional final in which it lost to Oklahoma.
So by that measure, A&M appears to be a lock as one of the final No. 3 seeds in the field as is reflected in Fast Pitch News’ latest projections. Following in the Tigers’ footsteps, A&M is slated to be the No. 3 seed in the Norman Region as one of the final four in the dance.
While the situations seem identical, the resumes tell a different story that makes A&M’s chances much lower.
Heading into selection Sunday, Missouri held an RPI ranking of 25th with the No. 2 strength of schedule in the nation. Heading into Wednesday’s SEC tournament game, the Aggies held an RPI ranking of 46th with the 17th-best strength of schedule. A&M’s nonconference strength of schedule is ranked 171st, while Missouri’s was 12th.
“They’re a quality team,” first-year Missouri head coach Larissa Anderson said. “They have some really quality wins. I think they’re outstanding. I never know what the selection committee is thinking. I don’t think many people do. They did everything they could, possibly can and now it’s in the hands of the committee.”
In 2017, Georgia made the NCAA tournament as the 13th seed with an RPI of 25th as well.
What might be the most troubling segment of A&M’s resume is an 0-for-5 clip against teams with RPI rankings from 26th to 50th, which ironically includes a series sweep against Missouri.
The Aggies’ best argument, and the one Evans made Wednesday, is a matter of historical pedigree. On the line this Sunday is a streak of 17 straight appearances in the NCAA tournament, all under the watch of Evans.
“It’s not a case of picking a team that hasn’t really been there, and they’re still on the bubble, and we’re wondering how that team is going to manage it,” Evans said. “We know how we’re going to manage it.”
SoftballAmerica.com has A&M on the outside looking in with its latest tournament projections, picking the Aggies to be one of the final four teams left out. Coaches from Mississippi State, South Carolina, Florida, Missouri and Auburn all agreed the Aggies should be a part of the field for another full roll call of SEC teams in the tournament.
“This is a tough conference,” Auburn head coach Mickey Dean said. “I can sit here and honestly tell you after coaching two years in this conference, teams deserve to go play in postseason, because of the competition they have to play week in and week out.”
Until Sunday, A&M has the unique challenge of preparing for an uncertain fate, while the remnants of the SEC continue to utilize its facilities. That means finding times to practice on the old Aggie Softball Complex when SEC tournament teams aren’t warming up on it. The team might even hijack the baseball team’s batting cages at Blue Bell Park, while the baseball team is away at Alabama, Evans said.
It’s all the Aggies can do as they await Sunday’s verdict, one that now is completely out of their control.
“Right now, we are all really disappointed, but I think it is important that we stay positive and prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically to play in regionals,” Evans said. “That is what Texas A&M does. That is who we are.”