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Continuing history

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SBL 08_09 UK_Kent Game2 Web 24.jpgThis team had never been there. Not a single player on the roster or its head coach had tasted a postseason game.

The program for that matter hadn't even been to a postseason game since making the Southeastern Conference Tournament in 2001, and even still, UK had only been twice prior to this year and had never won a tournament game.

So entering Thursday's first-round game in the SEC Tournament had to be gut-wrenching with pressure, right? With such a historic opportunity at hand and playing against the No. 7 team in the nation - the same team that handed UK its only three-game sweep of the year - the Cats had to have at least been nervous.

"Before the game we had a couple of butterflies going but as soon the game got going, it was just like any other game for us," junior Molly Johnson said.

Two things are wrong there. I'll explain.

First of all, if the players had butterflies in their stomachs, somebody must have sprayed some pesticide the second they put their feet on the infield dirt. If there was any anxiety before the game, it certainly didn't look like it once that first pitch hit the catcher's mitt.

UK looked and played the stronger team in a historic win Thursday at Tennessee's Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. Playing in its first SEC Tournament in eight years, the UK softball team upset No. 7 Georgia 2-0 in dominating fashion (UK will play the winner of Alabama-Arkansas on Friday at 5 p.m.).

Freshman Rachel Riley stifled the third-seeded Bulldogs with a complete game shutout and Johnson provided all the offense the Cats needed with a two-run blast in the fifth inning.

UK played the part of the stronger team. The Cats played with confidence and attitude, like they had been there every single year.

"I think that comes with a lot of wins," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "They have a lot of confidence. Pregame was the worst but once the game started, it was just another beautiful day at the ballpark."

And that brings me to the second thing that is wrong with Johnson's statement. It wasn't just another game or another day at the ballpark. It might have just been a first-round game, but for a budding program that is trying to bust down the door of mediocrity, it was arguably the biggest win in program history.

The Cats could have settled with what they had already done. For a team that won just three conference games a year ago, they could have settled for just making the tournament.

But that's not good enough. If they're making history, why not make more? Well, that's what Lawson's Cats are intent on doing. They didn't show up in Knoxville, Tenn., just to be honored as the SEC's feel-good story of the year. No, they want to win this thing.

"We don't want to just show up and play," Lawson said. "We want to compete and we want to keep winning softball games as long as we can. We're really happy that we're here and we've played well and all that, but we want to win."

So instead of settling for what they had, they pitched well (Riley didn't allow a single run), played perfect defense (no errors) and came up with timely, clutch at-bats (Johnson's game-winning two-run shot). Quite frankly, it's what they've done all year.

"What was awesome is that we played like we have all year," Lawson said. "We had great defense, we had solid pitching and we hung in there and fought all game. I'm mostly proud of the fact that you never know how a team is going to do when it's the first time they've been in postseason play."

We know now what to expect in postseason play. It's the same thing we've learned to expect from them all year:

They're ready for the NCAA Tournament (they have to be in at this point, right?), they're ready to win the SEC Tournament and they're ready to keep making history.

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