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Get to know UK softball's Stephanie Martino

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Stephanie Martino.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

Although she did not see game action last spring, infielder/outfielder Stephanie Martino was a vital part of UK's 2014 success, traveling to nearly all road games and severing as the ultimate teammate.

A native of Glen Gardner, N.J., Martino played in five games last fall, seeing time mostly at second base and recording an RBI. Martino was a star player for Voorhees Regional High School, posting a career batting average of .436 as a four-year starter at third base. Martino helped lead her team to the 2011 and 2012 divisional championship and earned all-county first-team, all-conference first-team and Defensive MVP honors two years in a row.

Martino was an honor student in high school and was very active in her community, earning Bronze Level Community Service recognition after volunteering over 100 hours at the Hunterdon Healthcare Physical Therapy Center.  

Come see Stephanie and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets.  

To help you get to know Stephanie better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

Do you have any pets? At the moment, I have three cats back home, but in my lifetime I have had a total of 10, which is still not as many as Coach Lawson currently has.

What talents do you have besides softball?
I'm so good with a bow they should have cast me in the Hunger Games.

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? I would go the whole day without yelling at myself.

Person that has most influenced you in life, why?
The person who has most influenced my life is my Nonnie. She has been more than a grandmother and has taught me that family is not just blood. God puts certain people in our lives for a reason. Thanks, Non!

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I would like to master riding my bike. Not just for myself, but for the safety of all others on campus!

After softball, what would be your dream job?
I want to become a physical therapist.

What is your guilty pleasure? I like to play The Sims.

You are a closet _______ fan.
I'm a closet Brett Gardner fan ... but everyone knows about it.

What is your favorite dessert?
Vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles ...

Describe your perfect sandwich.
Ham, cheese, toasted bread and a LOT of hot sauce ...

What is your most memorable moment as softball player so far? Going to the WCWS!

Favorite actor/actress? Mathew McConaughey ... Alright, alright, alright!

The most famous person you've ever met is...
Michele Smith, we went to the same high school!

Most famous person in your cell phone? Coach Lawson.

What artist gets the most play on your iPod right now?  Luke Bryan

Favorite saying or quote you like to live by: Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars.

How do you like your eggs?  An omelet with feta cheese, ham, spinach, and hot sauce ...

Do you collect anything? Mason jars

Are you related or distantly related to anyone famous? My Dad's cousin, Steven Martino, was the lead cameraman for the movie Jurassic Park ...  

How did you get your name? Once upon a time, on a sunny day at the Jersey shore, when my parents were brainstorming baby names ... A big yacht came into the marina across the bay. The name of the boat was the 'Miss Stephanie' and well the rest is history!

Get to know UK softball's Haley Andrus

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Haley Andrus.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

After the graduation of several infielders off Kentucky's 2014 Women's College World Series team, utility infielder Haley Andrus is a welcome addition to the 2015 roster as a true freshman. Andrus can play third and second base and did so in the fall while adjusting to college softball. In seven fall games played, Andrus scored one run and had an RBI.

The native of Chattanooga, Tenn., brings championship experience to Lexington as a three-year state champion at Baylor High School. A six-year letterwinner, Andrus ended her high school career with a .478 batting average, adding 30 home runs, 59 doubles, 196 RBI, 215 hits and a .795 slugging percentage. Her strong high school career led to Andrus being a three-time Chattanooga Times Free Press Best of Prep selection, while also earning all-state honors each of the last three seasons.

Andrus, who also played travel ball with the Tennessee Fury '95, was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in high school.

Come see Haley and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets.  

To help you get to know Haley better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

Do you have any pets? I have a French bulldog named Minnie.

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? I chose Kentucky because when I came on my visit the team made me feel welcome and I like the family atmosphere.

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create? I would bread a pig and a goat.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I would learn how to sing and play guitar.

You are a closet _______ fan ... Eric Church

Name three things you like? Food, country music and sports ...

Name three things you dislike? Bugs, hair and rain ...

What is your favorite dessert? Cherry cheesecake

Favorite all-time movie?
The Rookie  

Favorite actor/actress? Hugh Jackman

 The most famous person you've ever met is... Chipper Jones or Miley Cyrus

What is your shoe size? My shoe size is a 9 ½.

What is your worst fear? Spiders

What artist gets the most play on your iPod right now? Eric Church

If you were famous would you rather have a statue or a building named after you? I would rather have a building named after me ...

Do you collect anything? I collect all of the concert tickets that I go to.

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime? The trip that I would like to take in my lifetime would be to go to Hawaii.

What do you typically have for breakfast?
I typically have a pastry or some cereal.

Describe your perfect sandwich ...
My perfect sandwich would be peanut butter with grape jelly on wheat bread with the crust cut off.

What is one TV show you cannot miss?
American Idol

Get to know UK softball's Rachael Metzger

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Rachael Metzger.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

One of two Californians on the team this season, Rachael Metzger showed great promise during the fall with two home runs and spelled senior catcher Griffin Joiner behind the plate. Metzger hit a home run in her first game during fall play and showed her versatility in eight games played by seeing time at first base, third base and catcher.

Metzger was a standout performer in high school for Garces Memorial High School, ending her career with a .545 batting average, 186 hits, 163 runs scored, 170 RBI, 38 doubles, 37 homers and struck out only 18 times, a ridiculously low total. Metzger has that winning mentality after leading her high school team to four straight California Central Section Division II SEYL League Championships.

On top of being a four-year, first-team all-league honoree and league offensive player of the year, Metzger also excelled in the classroom as the 2014 Bakersfield Jockey Club Outstanding Scholar-Athlete and GMHS Dante Alighieri Scholar-Athlete. Metzger was also active off the softball field, volunteering with special needs children and the homeless.

Come see Rachael and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets.  

To help you get to know Rachael better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

What is your nickname?
My nickname on the team is Metz because if someone calls for Rachael, me and Coach Lawson both turn our heads to respond.

Do you have pets? I have a cat from France and he looks like he is wearing a tuxedo.

What is your shoe size? I wear a size 11. Big foot!

What is your favorite word? My favorite word is la mantequilla de cacahuete, which is Spanish for peanut butter. Try saying that five times fast!

What talents do you have besides softball? I have some artistic talent. I love to draw when I have time.

What is one thing you could tell us about yourself that others would be shocked to know? Before I started playing softball, I took tap dance and gymnastics lessons and quit because I complained about sweating too much.

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? I love the family environment that Kentucky softball showed while I was visiting and I loved the coaching staff.

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? No running test. Ever.

When was the last time you were moved to tears?
When I watched the video about Lauren Hill and how she didn't give up on achieving her dream to play in a college basketball game despite her being very sick. Determination like that is something I greatly admire and I couldn't help but find myself in tears.

What is your biggest accomplishment to date? Being the first in my family to go to college and be able to play the sport I love at a higher level.

If you had a Derby horse, what would you name it? Run Forrest Run

After softball, what would be your dream job? I want to travel the world and play in the Olympics, when they bring it back in 2020, or play international softball. After that, I want to make prosthetic legs/arms that connect to the nervous system for soldiers who have been wounded in battle.

What is your guilty pleasure? New York style cheesecake

Best dancer on the team is ...
I want to say Darington, but I think the team knows the real MVP is Griffin.

Favorite all-time move? Howl's Moving Castle

Favorite actor/actress? Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson

What actor/actress would play in a move? Ali Hillis

The most famous person you've ever met is ... Ali Hillis

How do you like your eggs?
As dry as they can possibly be while still tasting good ...

Do you collect anything?
I use to collect Pokémon cards ... I still have them.

Get to know UK softball's Brooklin Hinz

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Brooklin Hinz.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

On the heels of a strong showing this fall, true freshman outfielder Brooklin Hinz should provide some pop to the Wildcats lineup and depth to the UK outfield. The native of Olathe, Kansas, hit .357 during the fall with a double, home run and five RBI. Hinz added a .400 on-base percentage and .646 slugging percentage in seven fall games played.

The results this fall came as no surprise to head coach Rachel Lawson and Co., after Hinz dominated in high school for St. Thomas Aquinas. The outfielder ended her career by holding eight offensive school records, including a .561 career batting average with 174 hits, 21 home runs and 108 RBI. A state champion in high school, Hinz best season came her senior year when she hit .701 with eight homers.

Hinz is as good off the field as she in on the field, volunteering more than 100 hours of community service during high school. She was also a four-year member of her high school's academic honor roll.

Come see Brooklin and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets

To help you get to know Brooklin better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

Do you have any pets? I have a yellow lab named Maggie.

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? I chose Kentucky because I love the coaching staff and the team. It's one of the top programs in the country and I knew it would be a challenge.

If you had a Derby horse, what would you name it? I would name my horse Flash. I really have no reason for that name other than the fact that it sounds cool and that you would assume it would be fast.

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create?
A dog and a pig ...

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I would love to learn how to sing or cook.

After softball, what would be your dream job?
A job in the medical field that would get to work with a sports team ...

Name three things you like?
Food, softball and movies ...

Name three things you dislike?
Spiders, cold weather and Chinese food ...

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime? I want to go either Fiji or Bora Bora.

Where is your favorite place on Earth?
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is my favorite place. I love the beaches and the city.

What do you typically have for breakfast?
I usually have a big glass of milk and cereal.

What is your favorite dessert?
A big piece of chocolate cake ...

Describe your perfect sandwich ... A turkey sandwich on white bread ...

What is your most memorable moment as a softball player so far? Either playing in the state championship my sophomore year or hitting a home run that Coach Lawson saw that eventually led me here to UK.

Favorite all-time movie? Remember the Titans.

What is one TV show you cannot miss? Pretty Little Liars

What is your worst fear?
Being buried alive ...

If you were famous would you rather have a statue or a building named after you? I would rather have a building named after me ...

What three things do you think of most each day? When I'm going to eat, what I want to eat and softball ...

How did you get your name?
A guy at my dad's work mentioned the name and my parents liked it. Of course, it had to be different so they changed the 'y' to an 'i'.

Get to know UK softball's Erin Rethlake

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Erin Rethlake3.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

A true freshman from Huntington, Indiana, Erin Rethlake had a dazzling high school career at Huntington North High School. The left-handed pitcher won numerous awards in high school, including 2014 News-Sentinel Softball Player of the Year, 2014 Indiana Miss Softball and Gatorade Indiana Softball Player of the Year following her junior season.

Rethlake's best season came her junior season as she posted a 23-1 record with a 0.18 earned-run average and 317 strikeouts in 154 innings pitched. Although her senior season was cut short due to injury, Rethlake had a 13-2 record with a 0.80 ERA. Off the field, she was very active as a member of the National Honor Society, Student-Athlete Board, Huntington Class Council and Future Educators of America.

Rethlake projects to have an immediate impact on the UK pitching staff and could possible see time in the UK outfield when not in the circle. During the fall, Rethlake threw just over 10 innings with a 1.74 ERA, striking out 12 batters. At the plate, the true freshman hit .250 with four walks drawn.

Come see Erin and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets.

To help you get to know Erin better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

What is your shoe size? 10.5

What is your favorite word? Giggle, it has too many Gs in it and it is amusing to me.

What is one thing you could tell us about yourself that others would be shocked to know? I played the clarinet and alto saxophone in middle school and freshman year of high school.

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? The family environment, the distance from home, the beautiful campus and also the competitive softball team ...

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? I would cancel all of the running days for the entire team, forever.

Person that has most influenced your life and why? My little sister, Emily. She has overcome every obstacle she has ever been thrown and come out defeating every challenge. She sees the good in everyone and is a constant reminder to be thankful for everything I have been blessed with.

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create? A giraffe and a koala, imagining what that would look like just makes me laugh ... every time!

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Whistle ... I'm sick of not being able to join in when everybody else does it.

After softball, what would be your dream job? To be a speech therapist for special needs kids.

Name three things you like ... Food, sleeping and chocolate

Name three things your dislike ... Heights, sharks and scary movies

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime ... I really want to go to the island St. Lucia because I saw it on The Bachelor and decided that I would go there before I died.

Favorite actor/actress ... Sandra Bullock and Leonardo DiCaprio

What is one TV show you cannot miss? Nashville because I secretly wish I was a famous country singer.

What is your worst fear?
Sharks, even though I live in a completely landlocked state near zero sharks ...

What artist gets the most play on your iPod right now?
Usher. I don't even need to explain that one

Favorite saying or quote you like to live by ... The Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated

How do you like your eggs?
Sunny side up of course ...

Are you allergic to anything? Copper, so pennies and I aren't exactly friends.

What is your favorite class you have taken so far at UK? Not Greek Mythology ...

UK advanced to the first Women's College World Series in school history in 2014. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK advanced to the first Women's College World Series in school history in 2014. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Having just seen the season end, Rachel Lawson took time to reflect on exactly how special 2014 had been for Kentucky softball.

Women's College World Series berth. Fifty wins. A trip to the Southeastern Conference title game. The list of firsts goes on.

Nonetheless, Lawson's nature meant the wheels in her head couldn't help but keep turning.

"Well, I'm always a learner, so I'm already preparing for next year," Lawson said.

Her words came moments after a heartbreaking 8-7 defeat at the hands of Baylor during which the Wildcats gave up a seven-run sixth-inning lead. Kelsey Nunley, as she had throughout the tournament, threw every pitch even as the Lady Bears adjusted to her electric stuff.

"It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done because I knew that I was physically giving my all but just wasn't going the way I wanted to," Nunley said.

Noticing that, fans watching at home -- many of whom discovered the sport through UK's magical postseason run -- questioned why Nunley remained in the game. The sophomore, after all, had thrown upwards of 1,600 pitches in NCAA play.

The always-honest Lawson admitted she made a mistake with her pitching staff, but she says her error came well before the first pitch of Saturday's elimination game. Given her well-placed faith in Nunley, Lawson only felt comfortable with one of her pitchers actually pitching, no matter the talent of Lauren Cumbess, Meagan Prince and Shannon Smith.

"The mistake with me is that I didn't prepare them to come in, so the reason I went with Kelsey is because I'm comfortable with what they were doing," Lawson said. "They were timing her and squaring up and they had me figured out, so a change would have been great but I didn't prepare them for that situation and it was too unpredictable."

For ascendant softball programs that's not unprecedented, but it is a lesson for Lawson.

"Moving forward I realize in order to win the World Series you have to make sure that you have a staff prepared and I think you're going to see that moving forward with Alabama and you're going to see it moving forward with Florida," Lawson said. "When I watch what they did. What they did is really smart. They prepared all their pitchers for this moment but, they had to get there the first time and the first time they were in the show they pretty much rode one arm."

The two teams referenced by Lawson will play for the national championship this week. Florida and Alabama, however, are far from first timers, combining for 16 Women's College World Series appearances.

It's Lawson's goal to establish UK as a program that makes similarly regular trips to Oklahoma City and competes for titles, but the Cats had to take a first step to get there on the strength of Nunley's right arm.

"I think it's really hard to go to the World Series," Lawson said. "I think learning how to go to regionals and then learning how to host and then learning how to go to supers is all very difficult, but it's a whole other level when you have to figure out how to go to the World Series.

"So I feel proud for this team because they are the first team in Kentucky history that's figured out how to go to the show and I think that's very special."

UK was eliminated in the Women's College World Series with an 8-7 loss to Baylor on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK was eliminated in the Women's College World Series with an 8-7 loss to Baylor on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
OKLAHOMA CITY - There Ginny Carroll and Griffin Joiner were, sitting in their hotel room in the wee hours of the morning.

UK had just clinched its first-ever Women's College World Series berth with a Sunday sweep of UCLA and sleep just wasn't happening. Naturally, Carroll and Joiner flipped the television to ESPN, where the Wildcats' game-three victory was being re-aired.

Carroll, caught up the joy of the moment, turned to Joiner.

"I told Griffin no matter what happened from here on out I didn't think it was possible that I could be sad," Carroll said.

What Carroll didn't see coming was how things would change when UK arrived in Oklahoma City.

When she came to softball's biggest stage, Carroll quickly realized she wanted more. It became clear, in spite of what she thought on Sunday, that it would hurt if UK didn't win a national championship.

"Once you got here and practiced and played and you tasted it, then the bar is raised from making it to the World Series to winning the World Series," Carroll said. "Once you've tasted that, it's--I mean, you just want to win it."

UK did end up falling short of that national title, and it happened even more painfully than anyone could have predicted.

Riding an aggressive approach at the plate and a big day from their seniors, UK built a 7-0 lead on Baylor in an elimination game. Emily Gaines started it with a home run, hitting a second-inning home run on the first pitch she saw not even 24 hours after watching a crucial called strike three in a loss to Alabama. Fellow seniors Carroll and Krystal Smith would add homers of their own and the Cats appeared poise to cruise to a win with Kelsey Nunley dealing in the circle, per usual.

"I just thought we were facing a team destined to win and there was nothing we could do about it," Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said.

In the bottom of the sixth, things changed.

Entering the inning, Nunley had allowed just seven hits in 19 innings of work in the College World Series. The Lady Bears, however, smacked six singles to plate three runs. An inning later, with a solo home run, two doubles, a walk and the help of a fielding error, Baylor tied the game and sent it extra innings.

The Lady Bears would win it in the eighth, 8-7, when Joiner's throw to first on a sacrifice bunt went into right field.

"Obviously this was a hard one for us," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "This isn't the way we wanted it to go down, especially having so many runs early. But I'm really proud of this team."

Lawson has every reason to be proud.

By any reasonable measure, 2014 was the best season in the history of Kentucky softball. Not only did the Cats advance to the Women's College World Series and the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time, they did it while piling up a school-record 50 wins.

"I think this team has done something special," Lawson said.

The same can be said about UK's senior class.

Smith, Carroll, Gaines, Lauren Cumbess, Emily Jolly and Sarah Frazer have played important roles in the ascendance of UK softball onto the national stage, though they might not all have been stars or even full-time starters.

"We don't have any All-Americans in our class," Carroll said. "We're not 100-percent studs, but I think the biggest thing we are is we're tough. We have been in and out of the lineup our whole careers, but at the end I think we all brought our 'A' game and at the end of the day I know we're the toughest class around."

Tough as they may be, this is the end of the line for these seniors. Nonetheless, they'll rest easier than they did last Sunday.

"I don't think there is enough words to express what this means to us personally and for all our seniors," Smith said. "It brings us comfort to know that this senior class and this 2014 softball team has made an indelible imprint on the Kentucky softball program, and I think we can go home knowing that. We can move forward."

So too can the program, and the future is bright.

With the experience of finally reaching Oklahoma City for the first time, return trips seem likely. Nunley, though she ran out of gas in the late innings after a long NCAA Tournament, will be back in the circle next season.

Carroll will be watching.

"I told Skeeter after the game, she has two years left so I expect big things," Carroll said. "No pressure."

Welcome celebration Sunday at John Cropp Stadium

Soon after the loss on Saturday, UK announced plans to hold a welcome home celebration for the team at 1:30 p.m. ET at John Cropp Stadium on Twitter.





Kelsey Nunley allowed just three hits, but UK fell 2-0 to Alabama on Friday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kelsey Nunley allowed just three hits, but UK fell 2-0 to Alabama on Friday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Rachel Lawson thought her eyes were playing tricks.

In the final moments before Kentucky's Women's College World Series matchup with Alabama, the video board listed the tale of the tape for the game's two starting pitchers.

If the names and school logos hadn't been there, Lawson wouldn't have been able to say which statistics belonged to UK ace Kelsey Nunley and Alabama's Jaclyn Traina.

"They had Traina next to Nunley and the stats were identical," Lawson said. "Like, identical. I thought that they had made a typo."

Entering the game, Nunley had 29 wins to Traina's 24. Their earned-run averages stood at 1.99 and 1.83, respectively. A battle, it seemed, was in store for the fans watching at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium and at home on ESPN2.

A battle is what they got.

Just as the two sides of the video board were almost indistinguishable from one another pregame, the same was true for the two sides of the scoreboard afterward. UK had four hits to Alabama's three. Neither team committed an error.

The only real difference was in the most meaningful column, where Alabama came out on top 2-0 to send the Wildcat into the loser's bracket.

"Just an awesome game tonight," Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy said. "I thought it was a made-for-TV sporting event, the way it ended, the way it played out. Two really good teams with two really good pitchers."

The drama, as Murphy referenced, came to a crescendo in the seventh and final inning.

Just an inning after Sylver Samuel finally broke up Traina's no-hit bit with an infield single, Nikki Sagermann -- reaching base for the third time in as many trips -- Lauren Cumbess and Griffin Joiner singled to lead off the frame and load the bases for Emily Gaines. The senior put together a seven-pitch at-bat, but looked at a changeup that was called strike three.

It was then Krystal Smith's turn to take a shot at being the hero. Smith smacked a grounder to shortstop that was hit just hard enough for Alabama to turn a game-ending double play.

"I just think the fact that they were able to turn the double play, that's the way it goes," Lawson said. "We have one missed pitch and they hit a home run and then the game ends on a double play. That's the way softball should be played."

In a matchup between two pitchers as dominant as Nunley and Traina -- Lawson called Traina the best pitcher in the country -- the separation between victory and defeat is always going to be razor thin. In this case, it came down to a double play and a homer.

Following a scoreless first inning, Peyton Grantham kept the Alabama second alive with a two-out single. When Nunley fell behind 2-0 and left a pitch just a little too high in the zone, Leona Lafaele made her pay with a shot over the fence in left center.

"My approach to the at-bat was just get my barrel there," Lafaele said. "Nunley is a great, fantastic pitcher and she's been mowing teams down and Kentucky definitely had momentum coming into the game."

"The girl definitely made a good swing," Nunley said. "The pitch was a little high, so she hit it right over. And, you know, it happens. So you just gotta flush it and move on to the next batter."

Nunley managed that just fine. She retired 16 of the final 18 batters she faced in going pitch for pitch with Traina, a senior who has two years' experience on Nunley.

"I love playing games that it's a good matchup," Nunley said.

Nunley won't have to wait long for another such matchup. The Cats now await the winner of No. 8 Florida State and No. 13 Baylor at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday in an elimination game.

Already this NCAA Tournament, the Cats have won three games in which their season was at stake. Most recently, UK advanced to its first-ever Women's College World Series by taking two Sunday games at UCLA to complete an unlikely comeback from a 1-0 Super Regional deficit.

"We're a tough team and I know we'll battle back from this," Samuel said. "It's just another bump in the road, but we like to play extra games so we'll come back from that."

The way UK closed Friday night's game is another reason to believe the Cats will bounce back.

Traina, for the first 5.2 innings, was literally unhittable. Sitting in the high 60s in terms of velocity and at times reach 70 miles per hour, Traina was difficult to prepare for. Add in the late start time and you have a recipe for a long night for hitters.

"Traina's outstanding and under the lights she's incredible," Lawson said. "I think that it took us that long to really adjust visually to it."

UK eventually did make the necessary adjustments, catching up with Traina's power arm for those three hits. The rally was eventually undone, but not the momentum and confidence built by it. That the Cats will carry forward.

"I definitely think that our team felt good in the seventh inning," Lawson said. "That was the fight that they've had this entire postseason and they know that they have more life in them. They know that they have at least one more game tomorrow."

A look at the last time UK faced Alabama

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Griffin Joiner celebrates after UK's 4-1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Griffin Joiner celebrates after UK's 4-1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Stack up the softball histories of Kentucky and Alabama and there's little comparison. The Crimson Tide, in fact, will best almost any school in the country in that department.

Since the program's first year in 1997 and before this season, Alabama had reached nine Women's College World Series. In its most recent trip to Oklahoma City, the Crimson Tide took home its first national championship in 2012.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, are only just getting their feet wet on softball's biggest stage. Nonetheless, you needn't look any further than UK's Women's College World Series debut for evidence that the Cats aren't about to shrink in the spotlight at 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday.

And to give fans added reason to believe UK will be confident, the Cats played very well the last time they saw the Crimson Tide.

UK and Alabama haven't faced off in 2014, but the Cats traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the final regular-season series of 2013. Let's look back at what happened as UK claimed its first-ever series win over the Crimson Tide.

Game one -- Kelsey Nunley, as she has been all postseason, was dominant. She tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out five in UK's 5-0 win in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader. Shortstop Christian Stokes, now a sophomore, went 2-for-3 with with a home run, two RBI and two runs as UK claimed a 3-0 lead in the second inning and never looked back.

Game two -- This one wasn't so memorable for UK, at least not for good reasons. Smarting from that game-one defeat, Alabama played 10 first-inning runs against three different Wildcat pitchers en route to a 14-0 run-rule win in five innings.

Game three -- If UK and Alabama play a game like this one on Friday, the primetime audience on ESPN2 is in for a treat. The Cats took a 5-0 lead into the sixth inning behind Nunley, who was once again cruising. Alabama, however, rallied to tie it and send the game to extra innings. Unfazed, the Cats responded with four in the top of the eighth to come away with a 9-5 win. Third baseman Nikki Sagermann struck the big blow -- a three-run homer -- to give her a school-record six RBI in the game.

These are obviously two different teams than a year ago -- both much better, clearly -- but there has to be some value for Kentucky's youngsters in the experience of taking two of three at Alabama. In that series, players on this year's roster accounted for all but two of UK's runs, all but one hit and every RBI and win on the mound.

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