May 18, 2017
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Anyone who attended Thursday's press conference at Rhoads Stadium for the teams competing in this weekend's Tuscaloosa Regional would think the Minnesota Gophers are an underdog.
In fact numerous times throughout the Gophers 15-minutes in front of the camera, Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister was quizzed by the media about her team playing the "underdog role" in a regional comprised of Alabama, LA Tech and Albany.
And based on Allister's answers, the Gophers are embracing their David vs. Goliath role after being snubbed by the NCAA Committee by not receiving one of the 16 national seeds.
But if the No. 1 ranked team in the country that sports a 54-3 record heading into Friday's 1:30 p.m. match-up against Louisiana Tech is the underdog, what does that make the Lady Techsters? A national television audience can determine it for themselves as the first ever meeting between the two programs will be on ESPNU.
"For a lot of programs seeing their name mentioned when the bracket is released goes a long way," said Montgomery. "Unfortunately we were denied that because of all the controversy (surrounding Minnesota). It was a little disappointing when you aren't even mentioned in the statement. So when your name shows up with the other teams in the region and no one even talks about you as even being in the region, it's a little disheartening. It is what it is. We are going to do our best to show that we belong here at this regional.
"We know we are talented, and we feel we are an awfully good team. We feel like we belong, and we want to go out and show that on the field. I don't want to get wrapped up in the talk (about Minnesota), just because it's not about us."
The Lady Techsters (37-22) make the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008, the 10th overall, after capturing the Conference USA Tournament title with a 1-0 win over FIU last Saturday in Hattiesburg.
Tech played nine games during the regular season against Power 5 teams. Although the Lady Techsters recorded only two wins (South Carolina, Indiana) in those contests, Tech did play most of them close, losing 1-run games to NCAA Tournament participants Ole Miss (4-3, 8 innings), Texas (6-5), South Carolina (4-3) and Mississippi State (5-4).
"We were competitive in almost every one of those games," said Montgomery. "We weren't able to close a few of those out that we had leads late, but we showed we are talented enough to compete with these teams. Minnesota is ranked No. 1 in the country for a reason. They have all three aspects of the game, pitching, hitting and defense. But we feel like we are pretty good too."
The Gophers haven't won 54 games by accident. Minnesota's pitching staff boasts a team earned run average of 1.21 led by All-American Sara Groenwegen (30-2, 0.59 ERA), who played alongside LA Tech centerfielder Tori Charters on the Canadian Junior National Team in the summer of 2013.
Offensively, Minnesota sports a .349 batting average with eight of its nine everyday starters batting .300 or better led by freshman All-American Kendyl Lindaman (.438, 20 HR, 74 RBI), Maddie Houlihan (.401, 16 doubles, 12-14 SB) and Sydney Dwyer (.391, 12 HR, 76 RBI).
"They are tremendous and are like a No. 1 seed," said Montgomery. "That's not what you thought you would face in the first game as a 3 seed. We will have to bring all three elements and I think we can. We will have to play mistake free ball and leave it all out on the field."
Tech spent 75 minutes on the field at Rhoads Stadium during lunchtime on Thursday, getting acclimated to one of the top venues in college softball. It will be the first time the Lady Techsters have played at the stadium since the 2007 season when the Crimson Tide swept Tech in a doubleheader.
Despite not a single question being asked about LA Tech to the Minnesota coach or players on Thursday, the Lady Techsters know they are indeed playing in the contest and will have one goal when they step on the field.
"I think we just have to go out and compete every game, no matter who we are playing," said sophomore Morgan Turkoly. "We can play with anyone as long as we are competing within ourselves. Going into the conference tournament, we had been swept by FIU, but then we went out and beat them for the title. We got hot at the right time, and all three aspects of our game came together -- the hitting, the pitching, the defense -- and there isn't a better time to get hot then now."
The contest can be heard on the LA Tech Sports Network on ESPN 97.7 FM with the pregame show starting at 1:15 p.m.