Quick side note: Congrats to Tennessee for getting the first SEC team into the WCWS field this year. Other SEC teams in play for a berth this weekend include Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Missouri. To have fully half of the Super Regional bracket made up of SEC teams speaks volumes to the incredibly high level of competition this conference has developed in softball. It continues to be an honor to be a part of the BDCITL (Best Darned Conference In The Land.)
Watching the Hittin' Kittens this year provided the knowledgeable UK fan with serious 2011 flashbacks: stellar young talent combined with a few highly skilled seniors that simply could not sustain success in the regular season, somehow manage to step in up in the post season to make an incredible run against vaunted competition. In that year, a plucky senior captured our hearts forever when he made a glorious and gutsy play against then #1 Ohio State to help lead UK to the Elite 8.
While Griffin Joiner didn't exactly imprint a Worth tattoo against a Notre Dame player's chest, UK softball fans will cherish the memory of her masterful hit against Notre Dame in the top of the 7th last Saturday that allowed Christian Stokes to score and gave the Cats a 4-3 win. The Cats looked incredibly confident all weekend, and Kelsey Nunley's performance in the circle provided more than one reminder of her incredible post-season play last year.
The Cats are going to need to channel all that excellence to ensure flawless execution of their game this weekend in Gainesville. The Cats were swept by there by Florida in early April (1-0, 6-3, 2-0), but there were flashes of excellence that Rachel Lawson will look to build on this weekend. In the opening game of the series, Kelsey Nunley held Florida's top rated offense to just 3 hits and one earned run. Christian Stokes and Griffin Joiner both had home runs in game 2. Knowing what a study Lawson is of game film, I have no doubt she used every bit of the Cats' experiences both at Florida and last week at Notre Dame to get them ready to face the Gators yet again.
So just how good are the Gators? 53-6 overall, 27-2 at home and 18-5 in SEC play...sounds pretty good. Having the SEC pitcher of the year Lauren Heager helps. So does having the SEC Player of the year Kelsey Stewart and SEC Freshman of the year Aleshia Ocasio. However, they are not unbeatable. Just ask Auburn, who beat Florida to win their first ever SEC Championship on May 10th.
Our keys to victory:
- Minimize the Florida cannons: Led by the afore-mentioned Stewart who's hitting a stunning .451, the total Gator offense is hitting .321 to the Cats' .255. We'll never catch up if they start gunning so it's up to Kelsey and her sisters Meagan Prince and Erin Rethlake to make sure we negate their chances.
- Minimize the errors: We've collapsed late in games due to mental lapses. Stay sharp on defense ladies - no need to shoot ourselves in the foot when Florida's already aimed a bazooka there.
- Hit. The Freaking. Ball!: At .255 it's tempting to remove the "Hittin'" title from our Kittens but they have a knack for stepping up when it counts. I'm looking to Nikki Sagermann, "QuickSylver" Samuel and Brooklin Hinz to back up the pitching crew with a repeat of their strong offensive performance in South Bend.
Yay! This game is televised!!!! No need to hunker around a computer stream peppered with "insights" from the opposition's play by play guy, we can all tune in at 1 PM EDT today on ESPNU. If you're on the go, you can catch the action via ESPN3. And of course, we'll be here cheering our ladies on at ASoB - won't you join us?
Until that first pitch, Cat fans....GO BIG BLUE!