University of Missouri

Embattled Missouri draws No. 15 seed for NCAA softball tourney

Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine’s Tigers are the No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine’s Tigers are the No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Columbia Daily Tribune

Despite a first-round loss in the Southeastern Conference tourney, Missouri claimed the No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins Thursday at University Field in Columbia.

The Tigers, 39-14, had been ranked 10th nationally in RPI before an extra-inning loss against South Carolina on Wednesday in Starkville, Miss.

The early conference-tournament exit undoubtedly hurt Missouri’s seed, but it didn’t stop coach Ehren Earleywine’s squad from hosting a regional for the eighth consecutive season.

The Tigers open play at 7 p.m. Thursday against BYU, 35-19, while the other two regional teams are familiar opponents.

Louisville, 35-15, and Nebraska, 33-19, meet in the other half of Missouri’s regional at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Both regional games will be televised on ESPN2.

The Cardinals played in the Tigers’ regional last season and the Cornhuskers won the Columbia regional in 2014, upsetting Earleywine’s crew.

The winner of Mizzou’s regional matches up with the regional winner from Ann Arbor, Mich., which is hosted by second-seeded Michigan.

It’s been a rough week for Missouri, so the regional selection was welcome news.

The Tigers’ players announced a protest May 7 shortly before the penultimate game of the season, a loss to South Carolina on Senior Day.

That same afternoon, the school’s administration confirmed that coach Ehren Earleywine was under investigation for complaints, which center on alleged verbal abuse, made inside and outside the program.

Pitching coach Doug Gillis was briefly suspended Tuesday, but he was reinstated before Missouri blew a four-run lead in the seventh inning against the Gamecocks and lost 7-4 in eight innings.

The Tigers’ unity council released more documents Thursday in renewing the protest of athletic director Mack Rhoades and his administration.

On Friday, Earleywine publicly asked his players to end their protest, hoping to refocus the team on making the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2011.

The SEC claimed eight of the top-16 national seeds, including the No. 1 overall seed for Florida as the two-time defending national champion.

Among other SEC teams, Auburn earned the No. 4 seed and Alabama drew the No. 6 seed, while Kentucky was seeded No. 9 followed by No. 10 seed LSU.

Outside the top 10, Tennessee checked in as the No. 13 seed and Georgia drew the No. 16 seed.

Three other SEC teams made the NCAA field.

South Carolina was drawn into No. 8 seed Florida State’s regional, Texas A&M was placed in No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette’s regional and Mississippi qualified as an at-large.

Big 12 champion Oklahoma is the No. 3 seed with a regional that includes Missouri Valley champion Wichita State and Ole Miss.

Three other Big 12 teams also made the field — Oklahoma State is in Georgia’s regional, Baylor is in fifth-seeded Oregon’s regional and Texas is in No. 14 seed Louisiana-Lafayette’s regional.

The Longhorns and rival A&M meet in the opening round.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer