(Photo: JD Scott, MGoBlog.com)

Despite backing into the NCAA Tournament with respective 10-1 and 7-0 losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, the Michigan softball team is not only in the NCAA Tournament for the 24th consecutive season, but is even in a favorable position to advance past the regional round.

Late Sunday night, the 64-team NCAA Softball Championship bracket was released, and the Wolverines (18-3 Big Ten, 43-11 overall) were pitted in the Lexington regional alongside host team No. 16 Kentucky, Notre Dame and Illinois-Chicago. The Wolverines will begin double-elimination play in the regional Friday at Noon against the Fighting Irish (13-10 ACC, 32-21 overall). In addition to Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin will also represent the Big Ten in the Tournament.

Though Michigan is traveling for regional play for just the sixth time in 26 total appearances, the matchup on the surface is more favorable than last season, when the Wolverines traveled to the West Coast to take on No. 6 Washington. As of May 6, the Wildcats were 14th in the RPI, Michigan was 30th, Notre Dame was 43rd and Illinois-Chicago was 143rd.

But while the Wolverines have won 18 regionals in program history, they will have their work cut out for them in Lexington. Michigan went 1-1 against Notre Dame at the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, while the Wildcats have a whopping 16 wins against NCAA Tournament teams and are battle-tested thanks to a season in the hotly competitive Southeastern Conference.

Additionally, the Wolverines have their own battles to overcome, as they have suffered ugly losses to Western Michigan, the Buckeyes and, most recently in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, the Spartans. Michigan ranks just 28th nationally with 5.64 runs per game against a weak schedule.

Still, the Wolverines have ace Meghan Beaubien on their side, who might be the best pitcher at the regional as a freshman. The Big Ten Freshman and Pitcher of the Year leads the nation with 32 wins and 12 shutouts, and posted a 0.90 earned-run average with a .126 batting average against in a stellar regular season. When she is on — as evidenced by a nation-leading four no-hitters — the Newport, Michigan native is one of the nation's best pitchers. But as the Spartans exploited in a seven-run effort Friday, Beaubien isn't a seasoned veteran in the postseason yet.

Between the Fighting Irish and the Wildcats, the Wolverines face an uphill battle to advance to take on No. 1 Oregon in the super regional. But with Notre Dame, Kentucky and Michigan on respective 5-8, 4-6 and 4-4 skids, the Wolverines' regional matchup is far more favorable than it could have been.

Lexington Regional Schedule

Friday, May 18
Game 1 -- #2 seed Michigan (43-11) vs. #3 seed Notre Dame (32-21), Noon (ESPN2)
Game 2 -- #1 seed Kentucky (31-19) vs. #4 seed Illinois-Chicago (33-19), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Saturday, May 19
Game 3 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, Noon
Game 4 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2:30 p.m.
Game 5 -- Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.

Sunday, May 20
Game 6 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, Noon
Game 7 (if necessary) -- Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 2:30 p.m.