Augustana, MSU Mankato, Winona State among favorites in NSIC tournament in Rochester
Augustana is the No. 1-ranked team in NCAA Division II softball. The Vikings will be the favorites to win the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship this week in Rochester.
The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference softball championships will be decided this week at the Rochester Youth Fastpitch Softball Association complex, with 10 teams from three states battling in a double-elimination tournament for the grand prize: An automatic berth in the NCAA Division II Central Regional tournament.
The tournament begins at 10 a.m. Thursday and wraps up with Saturday’s 2 p.m. championship game.
Here’s a look at the favorites in the tournament, players to watch and local connections among the teams.
The 10 a.m. first-round matchups Thursday feature No. 7 seed Southwest Minnesota State (Marshall) vs. No. 10 Northern State (Aberdeen, S.D.) and No. 8 Minot (N.D.) State vs. No. 9 Sioux Falls (S.D.).
The top six seeds receive a first-round bye.
Augustana (S.D.) is the No. 1 overall seed and the No. 1-ranked team in the country in the latest NCAA Division II national poll. The Vikings will play their first conference tournament game at 2 p.m. Thursday against the lowest seed among the 10 a.m. winners.
No. 2 Minnesota State, Mankato, will play at 2 p.m. against the higher-seeded winner of the 10 a.m. games. Minnesota State is ranked No. 17 in the nation.
A third NSIC team in the national rankings is No. 3-seeded and No. 20-ranked Winona State, which will meet No. 6 Concordia-St. Paul at noon Thursday, while No. 4 St. Cloud State meets No. 5 Minnesota Duluth at the same time.
A complete schedule and bracket for the 18-game tournament can be found at NorthernSun.org .
• No. 1 Augustana: The Vikings are 40-4 overall and ranked No. 1 in the country in the most recent NCAA Division II national poll. They are 28-2 in NSIC play this season, suffering just two one-run losses, to St. Cloud State (7-6, in the NSIC opener on April 2) and at Sioux Falls (2-1 on April 22). The Vikings are led by a pair of .400-plus hitters — Sr. OF Kendall Cornick (.492 avg., 63 hits, 6 HR, 38 RBIs) and Sr. OF Abbie Lund (.402, 47 hits, 14 RBIs, 32 runs) — and two talented pitchers, Sr. Ashley Mickschl (22-2, 1.71 ERA, 105 strikeouts) and Sr. Amber Elliott (17-2, 2.31, 113).
• No. 2 MSU, Mankato: The No. 17-ranked Mavericks enter the postseason with a 34-7 overall record and a 23-5 mark in NSIC play. Minnesota State is on a 14-game winning streak; it hasn’t lost since a 6-1 setback against St. Cloud State on April 17. Six Mavericks have started all 41 games this season, led by junior infielder Torey Richards, a Mankato native who leads the team with a .418 average and 56 hits. She has struck out just seven times in 145 at-bats. Senior infielder Hannah McCarville is batting .415 with four home runs; she’s tied for the team lead with 38 RBIs. Freshman Sydney Nielsen leads the team in homers (8) and is tied for the RBIs lead (38). Junior Mackenzie Ward (19-3, 0.85 ERA, 248 strikeouts) and freshman McKayla Armbruster (13-3, 1.19, 75), a Faribault native, handle a majority of the pitching duties.
• No. 3 Winona State: The Warriors got a bit of their mojo back on Sunday, sweeping a doubleheader against Wayne State by a combined score of 33-0. That came on the heels of losing a twinbill to Augustana by scores of 10-1 and 6-2 a day earlier. The Warriors (33-10 overall, 22-8 NSIC) have been one of the best road teams in the conference, going 9-6 at home this season, but 24-4 on the road. WSU is paced by sophomore infielder Libby Neveau, who started 42 of 43 games and leads the team in hits (52), homers (13) and RBIs (49) and is second in batting (.391). Freshman Abby Hlas is the team’s top hitter (.397), and leads the Warriors in doubles (14) and triples (3). Jordyn Kleman (20-4, 1.92 ERA, 183 strikeouts) and Liz Pautz (11-5, 2.77, 151) handle the pitching.
• No. 4 St. Cloud State: The Huskies are 26-14 overall and hold wins over Augustana and Minnesota State Mankato this season. SCSU is just 6-8 away from home this season, though. Junior Raven Vanden Langenberg is the team’s top hitter, batting .441 with a team-best 56 hits. Jasmin Estrada, a sophomore infielder, is second on the team in average (.431) and is SCSU’s top power hitter (9 HR, 41 RBIs). The Huskies’ pitching duties have been spread among four pitchers, with all of them appearing in between 14-19 games.