The Kentucky Wildcats softball team, seeded no. 14 nationally, is one win away from advancing to their first Super Regional in two years. Here’s how Rachel Lawson’s team got to this point:
After sitting anxiously through an extra-inning game that delayed the opening pitch of their first NCAA Tournament contest, Kentucky (37-17) put on a clinic against the DePaul Blue Demons in a 6-0 win.
The Wildcats did the majority of their scoring in the bottom of the first inning. Katie Reed led off and drew a walk. The speedster came around to score after Abbey Cheek laid down a gorgeous infield single down the third base line. Alex Martens drove in another run with a RBI single. Duplicate doubles by Breanne Ray and Jenny Schaper added three more runs to the rally and put UK up 5-0 early.
The five runs are the most that Rachel Lawson's team have scored in the opening frame all season.
Senior ace Meagan Prince recorded her 20th victory of the season in the circle. Prince tossed a sparse 65 pitches in six shutout innings and gave up only two hits all evening, neither of which ever threatened to score as DePaul stranded both base runners. She also struck out five batters against only one walk.
Martens doubled again in the bottom of the fifth and brought home Kentucky's sixth run of the game. She finished 2-for-3 at the plate and also scored a run. Katie Reed was the only other Kentucky player to belt the ball twice in three at-bats.
Junior Erin Rethlake relieved Prince in the seventh inning and gave up a lone hit in a scoreless inning of work.
Prince continued her dominance of the Lexington NCAA Tournament regional in a 1-0 win for the Wildcats (38-17).
Going into the game, Kentucky knew they would be facing a stern test in Illinois starter Breanna Wonderly. The senior Illini threw 12 innings (over 170 pitches) the day before in a 3-2 win over Marshall and repeatedly shut down the Thundering Herd with inning-ending strikeouts in the extra frames.
Against the host Wildcats, Wonderly was simply marvelous and maintained the same warrior spirit from the day before. When Kentucky threatened in the bottom of the second inning, Wonderly answered with a K and a double play-inducing pitch to get out of the jam. She only allowed three hits in six innings of work, but a walk and two hit batters in the bottom of the fourth were the only blemishes on her record.
During the pivotal fourth, UK's Bailey Vick led off with a walk. She moved to second base thanks to a perfect sacrifice bunt by Brooklin Hinz. Wonderly beaned Abbey Cheek and Alex Martens, brining Breanne Ray to the plate. The Marshall County alum blasted a deep fly ball to right field, which gave Vick more than enough time to haul tail home to give the Cats their only run of the game.
Prince more than matched Wonderly's mastery in seven complete innings. She allowed only three hits and more importantly did not surrender a single unnecessary base runner with walks or bean balls. Prince also struck out three batters and received tremendous hustle from her fielders.
The shutout extends Prince’s streak to thirteen innings in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have 14 scoreless as a team.
Katie Reed and Alex Martens were the only Kentucky hitters to do any damage to Wonderly, with Martens going 2-for-2.
The Cats will play in the regional final on Sunday, needing to win just one game to make the Super Regional.