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History, perfection comes in twos for UK softball

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4646563.jpegThe Kentucky softball team has waited 14-plus seasons for its first perfect game. Lo and behold the program goes out and captures two in the same night.

One game after junior Chanda Bell tossed the first perfect game in school history in a 16-0 rout of Austin Peay, junior Rachel Riley followed with a perfect game not even two hours later in a 13-0 victory over the Governors.

Head coach Rachel Lawson has seen a lot of things in her softball coaching career, but she's never seen anything quite like what happened Wednesday night in Clarksville, Tenn.

"I was actually kind of in shock while the whole thing was happening," Lawson said. "It was pretty cool. It was a special day for them."

Surprisingly, it's not the first time back-to-back perfect games have happened in NCAA softball history. As a matter of fact, Louisiana-Lafayette conquered the feat earlier this season against Rhode Island.

Still, Wednesday night was pretty special for Kentucky as it marked the first time in Southeastern Conference history a team has pitched back-to-back perfect games. Only two SEC teams have ever recorded multiple perfect games in an entire season and those were done by the same pitcher for each team.

Bell overpowered the Governors with a dominating fastball, striking out 15 of the 18 batters she faced in a six-inning affair. The 15-strikeout performance marks the sixth time in Bell's career she's fanned 15 or more batters in a single game.

Meanwhile, Riley used her drop-ball and her off-speed pitches for five flawless innings until the run rule went into effect.

"They both worked perfectly," Lawson said.

What may be even more remarkable is that Bell can't even remember if she's ever pitched a perfect game while Riley didn't know what she had accomplished until after the game was over.

Riley said the game felt just like any other outing until catcher Megan Yocke threw her the ball after the final out.

"That was kind of weird because she normally doesn't do that, and then everybody was like, 'You got a perfect game too,' " said Riley, who also pitched in at the plate with a school-record-tying six RBI.

Riley has pitched a perfect game in high school before, but Bell isn't so certain if she's ever done it. Whether or not it was indeed her first career perfect game, it still felt pretty sweet, if for no other reason than for how close she's come before.

Bell has flirted with a perfect game multiple times in her UK career, tossing three career no-hitters, including the program's first, but this was definitely her first perfect game in college.

"I was grinning ear to ear after it happened," Bell said. "And then in the second game I knew that Rachel had a perfect game going on so I was getting really excited, especially in the last inning. It's just a great feeling."

Bell said she sat with assistant coach and former player Molly Johnson during Riley's game hoping that her teammate could pull off a similar feat.

"I was trying not to say anything out loud so I wouldn't jinx her," Bell said.

The back-to-back perfect games are just another check mark in a long list of accomplishments for Bell and Riley.

The junior duo was already responsible for leading the program to its first two NCAA Tournament appearances, and Bell is the all-time strikeout leader and is on pace to shatter the wins record at Kentucky.

4649871.jpegBut both have taken their game to an even higher level this year, pacing a pitching staff on a team that is 27-7 overall, 11-3 in the SEC and second overall in the league. Bell is 10-4 on the season with a 1.57 ERA while Riley is sporting an 8-2 record with a 2.05 ERA.

"Just learning how to throw in the SEC has been a big change, knowing that I can't take a pitch off no matter what," Bell said. "Coming in freshman year and high school, I was able to take some pitches off and still get away with it because I threw fairly hard. Here, in the SEC, they take advantage of that and those are the ones that go over the fence."

There are a number of reasons for their improvement, experience, maturity and development being a few of them, but both pitchers have added pitches to their already impressive repertoire. Bell has added a drop ball and changeup to her overpowering stuff while Riley has honed her rise ball and added a changeup.

"They're not as predictable as they used to be," Lawson said. "Before, where they certainly had good pitches, those were the only pitches they could throw. Now, what they are able to do is they can really mix their pitches a lot so they're not as predictable. They're also stronger and smarter."

They're stronger because of the added depth of freshmen pitchers Ellen Weaver and Lauren Cumbess. The freshman duo has combined to go 9-1 this season, allowing Bell and Riley to get more rest than they've had in their first two years in the program.

"Even though you don't see all the arm injuries that you do in baseball, a lot of softball is with your legs," Lawson said. "They've been able to rest their legs on their days off which has really helped them drive the ball off the mound."

The arsenal and variety of arms, in addition to a surging offense, has put the team on the brink of achieving some things that didn't seem possible before Lawson arrived at UK. The Cats are currently boasting a No. 18 national ranking, the highest in school history, and are fresh off the program's first sweep of Florida.

The Gators were the No. 5 team in the country at the time of the sweep and now Kentucky must head to No. 2 Georgia this weekend. Austin Peay has struggled to an 8-27 record this season, but the ability to stay focused and pitch perfect games in between two critical series is what impressed Lawson the most.

"It keeps your confidence level high," Lawson said. "A lot of times when you play a series like Florida, there's kind of a letdown afterwards, so it was nice for us to see both of those pitchers come out and be really sharp and execute their pitches and do what they need to do to win the game. It was pretty cool that we didn't have that lull and that we kept moving on."

After the perfect games, Riley spent time with her family while the team celebrated at a late-night dinner. For one night at least, Georgia could wait. It's not every day you pitch two perfect games in one night.

 "It feels great," Riley said. "It's something that not a lot of people can say they've done. It's just cool that everything worked out perfect."

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I am a friend of Charlie Aull (Megan Aull's grandad). We see each other at the Health Park (Owensboro) almost every morning. We are all very proud of Megan and the great accomplishments she has made as a member of the UK softball team. We are also very proud of the outstanding milestones reached last night by Rachel Riley and Chanda Bell. I might possibly be related to Rachel. My mother was a Riley. She was born in Ohio, Co., Ky. in the small town of Hartford. They say all Rileys are related, so who knows? Anyway, my heartiest congrats to coach Rachel Lawson and the Lady Cats for their tremendous efforts to make this another successfull and outstanding season in UK sports history. Good luck for the rest of the season.

Best regards

Michael J. Murphy
Owensboro, KY

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  • Mike Murphy: I am a friend of Charlie Aull (Megan Aull's grandad). We see each other at the Health Park (Owensboro) almost read more