The Tennessee softball program received what co-head coach Ralph Weekly referred to as a “slap in the face” Sunday night from the NCAA tournament committee.
The Lady Vols (47-10) are seeded No. 14 in the NCAA tournament and will be forced to travel to play in a best-of-three Super Regional should they win the Knoxville regional at Lee Softball Stadium this weekend.
“I know there are a lot of fans in Knoxville scratching their heads over that 14 seed,’’ said ESPN’s Beth Mowins, who hosted the selection show Sunday night on ESPNU. “(It’s) one of the most surprising seeds.”
The Lady Vols (47-10) will host a four-team, double-elimination first-round regional at Lee Stadium, opening play at 6:30 p.m. Friday against Liberty (30-28). Oklahoma State (37-17) and ACC regular-season champion Georgia Tech (44-10) are the other teams in the Knoxville regional and play at 4 p.m. on Friday.
Elimination games begin Saturday. The winners of Friday’s action play at 2 p.m., with elimination games following at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The winner of Sunday’s Knoxville regional championship game (at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., if necessary) advances to play in a Super Regional against the winner of the NCAA regional in Austin, Texas, hosted by the No. 3-seeded Longhorns (44-8).
If Texas wins its regional — which includes Texas State (33-23), Houston (40-16) and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (49-9) — it will host the Knoxville regional champion with a trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla, on the line.
The Lady Vols sat stunned and silent in the Lee Softball Stadium clubhouse Sunday night when their No. 14 seed and regional bracket was shown on ESPNU.
Moments later, when Georgia (47-12) was shown as a No. 6 seed, the shock turned to anger.
“I think it’s ridiculous we beat Georgia three times during the season and they are a No. 6 seed and we’re a No. 14 seed,’’ Ralph Weekly said. “We finished higher in the SEC standings and we beat them in the SEC tournament.’’
The Lady Vols’ 6-5 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday night in Oxford, Miss., gave UT its second SEC tournament championship in the program’s 16-year history.
Tennessee swept a doubleheader from Georgia in Athens on April 6 by scores of 5-1 and 9-4.
“I felt we proved ourselves this season,’’ said Lady Vols sophomore Raven Chavanne, who led the SEC in hitting this season with a .457 batting average. “But there’s nothing we can do about it; we just have to look at this as motivation.
“It’s going to be a grind, but we’re up to the challenge.’’
The Lady Vols were up to the challenge last season after starting the NCAA tournament as a No. 15 seed, winning the Knoxville Regional before going to No. 2-seeded Michigan and winning a Super Regional en route to a third-place finish in the WCWS.
“I feel good about the fight in this team and its resilience,’’ said Karen Weekly, who serves as co-head coach with her husband, Ralph. “Hopefully we’ll take this seeding and try to prove we’re a better team than the (NCAA) tournament selection committee believes.’’
Tennessee has played in the WCWS four times over the past six seasons, finishing in the top three each time.