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Rapid Reaction: Indiana softball barely misses out on NCAA tournament

Junior right fielder Gabbi Jenkins (Kurt Spitler/HN).

Indiana softball was left out of the 2019 NCAA tournament field and was the second team named in the ‘First Four Out,’ along with Oregon State, San Jose State, and UNLV.

As of earlier today, the Hoosiers found themselves in the field of 64, according to two of three final bracket projections. Both Fastpitch News and College Sports Madness forecasted Indiana in the tournament field, while Softball America had IU as one of the First Four Out. Had IU been selected, it would have been the program’s first appearance in the tournament since 2011, and just the eighth appearance all-time.

We’ll have more reflection on Indiana’s season in the coming days, but for now, let’s get the essentials out of the way.

How the Hoosiers got here

At the season’s end, Indiana was a bubble team in the truest sense of the phrase. Even more so with the college softball selection process — the bubble is a true toss-up. You’re flipping a coin. You’re spinning the wheel. A season ago, Wisconsin made it into the field with an RPI of 50. That Badger team went 28-21 and 1-7 against top 25 RPI opponents. Meanwhile, Pitt (33-18-1; RPI of 48) lost to Florida State in the ACC title game and still got snubbed. This time around, Shonda Stanton’s group fell on the wrong end.

It’s not to say Indiana didn’t have its fair share of chances in 2019, and those resume wins over Georgia and LSU can only do so much for a program. After getting off to a record setting 14-0 start, IU quickly simmered down, and zero road wins in the Big Ten hurt the team’s case. Indiana finished the season at 48 in the RPI rankings with a 36-21 overall record, four shy of the magical 40. Indiana was swept three times in conference play, and additional losses against lesser opponents like Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers probably helped to do them in. The Hoosiers went 3-13 versus opponents inside the top 50 of the year-end RPI poll. Throw in losses against Furman and Florida Gulf Coast, and it’s easy to see how close the Hoosiers were to a 40+ win season.

The other Big Ten teams that were given at-large bids this year is one more factor to consider. Illinois (32-23; 9-14 B1G) likely took Indiana’s spot in the field. The Fighting Illini clocked in at 44 in the final RPI rankings release of the year and put together a solid Big Ten Tournament, defeating Nebraska and taking Michigan to extra innings. Minnesota (seven overall seed), Michigan (No. 15), Northwestern (No. 16), Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Illinois are all going dancing in 2019. At the end of the day, there might’ve just not been enough room.

The bigger picture

Hoosier fans, hang on.

At the beginning of 2019, Indiana likely wasn’t even expected to be in the position of being hopeful for a tournament bid, so that’s a form of progress itself. This season, Indiana softball’s future was uncertain. And for this program specifically, that was a perfectly alright place to be.

Sure, it’s disappointing for the Hoosiers. After the crazy hot start Indiana had back in February, it was easy to be overly zealous about what this team could do with what it had in 2019. Could more have come from this season? Perhaps. But in the eyes of many around the program, that too is part of the building process. In just her second year at the helm, Shonda Stanton, along with her group, is on schedule — possibly even ahead of schedule — when comparing Team 46 to the teams of Indiana Softball’s past.

“We had a party today,” Stanton said after the team’s quarterfinal loss to Northwestern. “We’re starting to really build something special here.”

There wasn’t ever a sense of pressure, potential, or even expectation around Indiana in 2019 and in some ways, the Hoosiers may have even surprised themselves.

Then, of course, comes the natural forthcoming question regarding what’s next. What about Team 47? It’s just now being born.

Connor Hines

I am a sophomore from San Diego, California studying in Indiana University's Media School. Beyond my work with The Hoosier Network, I'm a broadcaster for WIUX 99.1 FM, IU's student radio station, and BTN Student U. I previously served as beat reporter for Indiana Softball during my freshman year, and I look forward to continue to deliver fresh and innovative content with softball and much more during this year. Last summer, I interned with San Diego's Mighty 1090, the flagship AM sports radio station in my hometown. Tweet me your hot takes @ConnorHines17. Email: cohines@iu.edu

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