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Cats hungry for more after realizing WCWS dream

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UK will play in its first Women's College World Series game on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET against Louisiana-Lafayette. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will play in its first Women's College World Series game on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET against Louisiana-Lafayette. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Reaching the Women's College World Series has been the goal for Kentucky softball for years now.

For good reason, the Wildcats celebrated when they reached it with a Super Regional victory over UCLA on Sunday.

It only took one moment at the Tuesday night banquet honoring the schools that reached Oklahoma City to officially put an end to the celebration. It only took one look at what the eight best softball teams in the country will be playing for this week for the Cats to go right back to intense focus.

"When you see the trophy it reminds you that there's more games to play and we're here to win," senior Lauren Cumbess said.

If you thought the Cats would be happy just seeing their names on the scoreboard at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, playing on national television for a couple nights and going home, think again. As momentous as merely making it this far for the first time may be, UK is here to win.

"We have to know that we're here not to just be here but to actually compete and try to win a national championship," senior Krystal Smith said.

That's an attitude the Cats have already displayed this postseason.

Less than three weeks ago, UK accomplished another program first in advancing to the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Cats would see their remarkable run fall short of a title with a 5-2 loss to Georgia, but Lawson saw everything she needed to in that moment to be convinced her team won't be content reaching the World Series.

"What I noticed was the team wasn't excited just to be there," Lawson said. "I noticed that they were disappointed that we didn't win it. I didn't know that I necessarily expected that, but I was really happy to see that when we got into the team huddle and those long faces."

Those long faces, of course, turned happy again with UK's impressive effort in winning a Regional and Super Regional. Along the way, the Cats dispatched No. 25 James Madison, bested a solid DePaul team and rallied for two Sunday victories against No. 3 UCLA and player of the year finalist Ally Carda.

Add that to the fact that the Cats were competitive all season in the SEC -- a league represented by three teams in Oklahoma City -- and you have a group that's proven itself time and time again.

"As a team, we always have a ton of confidence," Jolly said. "We all think that we can beat anyone on any given day."

In spite of that confidence, No. 14 UK (49-17) will be the on-paper underdog in any game this week, starting Thursday at 7 p.m. ET against No. 6 Louisiana Lafayette (49-8-1). The Cats are the highest-seeded team still standing and one of just two teams -- along with No. 13 Baylor -- not among the top eight national seeds to advance to the Women's College World Series.

"We're more than (happy) to accept the Cinderella label," said Smith, who is riding a four-game hitting streak. "Everyone loves a great story and what better story than for the first team of the Kentucky program to make it to the World Series and make a run and how amazing that would be."

The Cats might be willing to play the role of Cinderella, but that doesn't mean they see themselves that way. They know what they've done reach this point. They know what they're capable of.

"I think we all know we're just as good as all the other teams in this playing field," Smith said. "So we don't look at ourselves as a higher seed than the others, but someone that we're all on the same level with, competing for the same goal."

Louisiana-Lafayette, however, is undisputedly good.

Making their sixth trip to the Women's College World Series, the Ragin' Cajuns haven't lost in the NCAA Tournament and have only dropped two games since March 14. Louisiana-Lafayette -- led by Lexie Elkins and her 22 home runs -- ranks second nationally in homers per game and boasts a team earned-run average of 2.77 behind ace Christina Hamilton (29-2, 1.53 ERA).

"I know they've always had a really good program and they have a great pitcher this year," Cumbess said. "We know that she's tough, that she moves the ball around a lot.

"We just know they're a great ball club and they're tough just like we are, so it should be fun."

As much respect as the Cats have from their opponent, their thought process won't change from the moment they glimpsed that hardware.

"I think our team understands that the World Series is great," Lawson said. "It doesn't get any better than that. But with that said, they're all winners. They were all picked to be at the University of Kentucky because they were champions where they come from."

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