Cats Jump on DePaul, Win NCAA Opener

Kentucky’s day was a little longer than planned on Friday.

The Wildcats sat and watched as Illinois topped Marshall in a 12-inning battle to start the Lexington Regional, unable to anything but fidget and try to stay loose down the third-base line at John Cropp Stadium.

When UK finally got to take the field for the NCAA Tournament, they had no patience for reprising any of the drama they had just witnessed.

UK played like the No. 14 overall national seed it is in pouncing on DePaul from the first pitch onward. After Meagan Prince breezed through a perfect top of the first inning, the Cats batted around, put up a five spot in the bottom half and never looked back en route to a 6-0 victory.

“I’ve been happier and happier with our offense,” Rachel Lawson said. “We seem to be doing a little bit better and a little bit better every weekend.”

The win sent UK (37-17) into the winners’ bracket for a matchup with the Fighting Illini at noon on Saturday.

“Coming out hot is really important to start a game off because you have the momentum and you back up your pitcher,” said Alex Martens, who had an RBI single in the first and a double to plate another run in the sixth. “The pitcher doesn’t have to work as strenuous to get those outs. We can back her up, she can be a little relaxed and that’s the most important part, is to make sure Meagan is relaxed up there and get those outs.”

You might have thought the hour-and-a-half delay would have some sort of adverse effect on Prince, but you’d have been wrong. In fact, the opposite was true.

“I was honestly kind of concerned about the delay, then me and (catcher) Jenny (Schaper) got started back again,” Prince said. “I was like, ‘OK, I feel like I’m connected now. I feel like my hips and my arm, they’re at the same—they’re moving at the same pace, the way they need to be moving.’ Unlike when I first started warming up. I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t feel like I’m very connected today,’ and then took that delay and came back and I honestly felt better.”

The senior lefthander was solid throughout and pitched six shutout innings. All the Blue Demons managed against her was two hits and a walk. She struck out five batters before giving way to Erin Rethlake for the seventh inning, meaning the ace’s pitch count was limited to 65 with a weekend full of games ahead.

UK’s next game will come against an Illinois team that has an ace, Breanna Wonderly, who threw 173 pitches and all 12 innings of the Illini’s 3-2 win on Friday. They still have the Cats' undivided attention.

“The thing about their team is they’re really feisty,” Lawson said. “They have a lot of heart and a lot of times as a pitcher that adrenaline can kick in and it might not affect her for a few more days. I just think we gotta go out like she’s going to be sharp and throwing her best pitches if she’s the pitcher on the mound.”

Long story short, Lawson’s isn’t going to overcomplicate things when it comes to her team’s mindset.

“In the postseason, you want to win and you want to move on,” Lawson said. “That’s a big deal.”

One down.