Kentucky Posts 6-0 Win Over DePaul

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Behind a five-run outburst in the opening inning and a sterling pitching performance from senior Meagan Prince, the No. 14-seeded Kentucky softball team earned a 6-0 win over DePaul on the opening day of the Lexington Regional on Friday. 

The Wildcats plated five runs on four hits in the home half of the first and would never look back. Prince tossed six scoreless innings, giving up just two hits. She also struck out five to earn her 20th win of the season. Erin Rethlake preserved the shutout with a perfect top half of the seventh.

Kentucky improves to 37-17 overall on the year, while DePaul drops to 29-22. The Cats will take on Illinois in the opening game of the day on Saturday at Noon ET. DePaul will face Marshall at 2:30 in an elimination game. TV selections will not be set until later this evening or Saturday morning. 

For continuing coverage of the Lexington Regional visit the tournament central page on UKAthletics.com. 

2017 LEXINGTON SOFTBALL REGIONAL
JOHN CROPP STADIUM
GAME TWO
KENTUCKY VS. DEPAUL
May 19, 2017

Kentucky Head Coach Rachel Lawson

Opening Statement ...
“First, I want to thank you all for being here. This is a pretty cool regional. I saw the first game and I thought the crowd was tremendous from both teams that were here. And then obviously, there was a great crowd for Kentucky tonight and I really appreciate you all being here. Normally I would thank the team for hosting, but I really want to thank our stuff for doing such a great job so far. I think that the event right now is going smoothly so hopefully we can avoid any rain issues that we have coming along tomorrow.”

On if she is surprised in her team’s performance …
“I am not that surprised in it, honestly, I wish we were a little sharper. DePaul is a very good team and I thought in the first inning that Meagan (Prince) did a really good job of gutting out her pitches, but I didn’t think she looked particularly as sharp as she could have. I thought that she really started to roll in the third inning and I thought she looked tremendous then and on time and everything looked great. I have been happier and happier with our offense every time we go out. We seem to be doing a little bit better and a little bit better every weekend, so I wasn’t as surprised that we came out so strong in the first inning. I wish we would’ve continued that. One, it would’ve made a statement and two the more runs that we put up I am able to go a little bit deeper into the pitching staff earlier. That was something I wish we would’ve kept doing. I was really proud of how we started. I thought Katie (Reed) starting us with a walk was great to get the pressure off. I think that Alex (Martens) is right, getting some runs early really helped Meagan to relax. As much as she didn’t find out she was pitching, I think that everybody knew that she was going to be pitching today. I think that was great and overall I think we had a really good performance but I hope that we sharpen up a little bit tomorrow.” 

On what went into the decision to hit Brooklin Hinz in the third …
“Well, she has been hitting third since she really started to hit her stride in the Texas A&M series. Brooklin is someone that we have been hoping – she has had a tough year for her statistically – but if you look at how she has done in the last couple of weeks she has been awesome. She has been one of our better hitters. Against Mississippi State she was outstanding and in the SEC Tournament she was outstanding, she is actually where she should be. I think she was nervous today to be honest, but I think she started to relax, I think that Brooklin is going to be somebody that will be special for us in the future.” 

On if she is able to get a sense of when the team will be locked in coming into a game …
“No, I never worry about their effort. The cool thing about this team is that we have a bunch of try-hard kids. The biggest reason for their inconsistency is because they are locked in on the wrong things. I don’t know until I see them get in the box for the first time and then I know, ‘Oh wow, she is trying too hard, she is over swinging,’ or depending on who the pitcher is on the mound they are really trying to over pitch. So, it is not so much a focus because they come ready to play every time but sometimes they don’t find their comfort zone or their stride early enough. That is something that has been a bit of a challenge, but the nice thing that I have liked lately, is that several players would start that way and then finish the game that way. Now, what I am finding is that a lot of players are doing a good job of when they over swing or have a bad at-bat or make a mistake on defense or if Erin (Rethlake) comes in and chucks a few balls, they do a much better job of settling down and playing their game, which is a real sign of their maturity.”

On the message going into tomorrow …
“Well in the postseason you want to win and you want to move on. That’s a big deal. I was really happy with our defense today. I thought they did a really good job. Meagan (Prince) of course, and then when Erin (Rethlake) came in in the seventh inning I thought they did a really great job of executing their pitches. I thought that was really important in this setting because they know how important their role is. So I was really happy with that. That was something we want to continue to do. I think the postseason a lot of times is about defense (wins) championships. As far as the offense, I just wanted them to remember what they were like in the first inning. I thought the first inning was great. They were locked in visually. They found a way to get on time. I don’t know if we got a little settled or complacent or what the situation is moving on, but it’s important that we continue to replicate the hard hits, and the swinging at good pitches like we did in the first inning throughout the entire seven.”

On how concerned she would be if her ace threw 170-plus pitches going into the next day …
“I would be concerned. I would, but I don’t know her (Illinois pitcher Breanna Wonderly). She’s very strong. The thing about Illinois – well they both threw a ton, I don’t know how many each threw, I’m assuming Illinois threw 177 (Wonderly threw 173 pitches). The thing about their team is they’re really feisty. They have a lot of heart. 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’ve got to go out like she’s gonna be sharp. It’s gonna be her best pitches if she’s the pitcher on the mound. I’m not sure who they’re gonna put out there. She can grit it out just like other pitchers that we’ve had in the past have had to grit it out.”

On putting Rethlake in in the seventh inning …
“That was more about just getting Erin comfortable on the mound. (Rachael) Metzger, it was important to me to get Metzger in the game. She’s been a big part of our offense lately. She’s been a great player for us, and I thought it was important to get her on the field as well as make sure we make the outfield switch we make when Metzger is there. That was more about preparation for tomorrow so they don’t have those nerves tomorrow like it’s the first time they’ve been in that position. That more about just getting ready for tomorrow.”

On players’ maturity in the NCAA Tournament …
“Oh I think they’re very mature. The fact that we were able to get a top-16 seed shows that despite our youth. They’re very mature because you have to stay the course throughout the entire season to even be in a position to potentially host a regional. From a mindset prospective, I think they’re very mature. I’ve been proud about that. The other thing I was pleased with is they did a pretty good job defensively. Defense a lot of times is about effort, and you can control a lot of things you do on defense. I was really pleased with how they handled themselves that way, and to be honest with you quite a few of them look like veterans out there.”

Kentucky Student-Athletes

#33, Alex Martens, 2B, Fr.
On the importance of a fast start …
“It was extremely important. Coming out hot is important to start a game off because you have momentum and then you can back up your pitcher and your pitcher doesn’t have to work as strenuous to get those outs. When we can back her up she can be a little relaxed, and that’s the most important part – to make sure that Meagan is relaxed. Also, the runs early really helps our defense play.”

#5, Meagan Prince, P, Sr.

On how the delay affected her play …
“I was honestly kind of concerned about the delay then when I got started warming up again I started to feel more connected and prepared than when I first started warming up. I honestly felt better after the delay.”

On passing time during delay …
“We watched the other game.”

On advanced notice on pitching …
“I found out that I was pitching today just a few hours before the game like everyone else. Coming in freshman year I didn’t like not knowing. I wanted to know when I was going to pitch. And then I remember one time she told me the day before that I was pitching to Texas A&M and I worried all night about it, didn’t get any sleep, and after that I decided that I didn’t want to know until I’m about to warm up.”

On feelings towards being pulled after the sixth inning…
“I wasn’t disappointed. Coach Lawson knows what she’s doing. It is what it is. I trust her.”

DePaul Head Coach Eugene Lenti

Opening statement …
“I thought it was a great game for us, except for the first inning. We were trying to ask for a mulligan or a do-over of that first inning but they weren’t allowing it. I just think we were a little bit nervous, a little bit jittery overall. I know that for sure. I obviously wasn’t because we’ve been through this a few times, but other than that I thought we played really well. Obviously, the offense didn’t really have a whole lot going today. We had a lot of ground balls and you’ve got to give credit to both Kentucky pitchers. You can definitely tell the difference in the experience, but it was a great experience for Missy (Zoch) to go through. This is the only way you gain experience. You’ve got to throw yourself out there and see what happens and I thought she made some great adjustments from the first inning to every inning going forward.”

On his thoughts after Kentucky took a quick 5-0 lead …
“I wasn’t really taken aback because I’ve seen Kentucky play every time they’ve been on TV. It’s an SEC team. We’ve played Tennessee before. We’ve played Oklahoma. We’ve played Lafayette and they’re all great teams. Nothing really surprises you, you just hope your team comes out and performs the way they’re capable of. It’s the age-old type of stuff that happens. You can’t have lead off walks. Both innings they scored in were lead off walks to start the inning. A pitcher’s job isn’t necessarily to strike anybody out, but it’s to get the ball hit at people and in the first inning the ball just didn’t get hit at people enough. So, after that you saw she settled down and we were going to leave her out there not for a whole lot longer if it got out of hand, but definitely Missy got us here and she deserved the opportunity to keep us in the game and she did a great job. The 5-0 seems like a lot more when you see the final score, you know, because we really didn’t have many chances to score today. Once again, you’ve got to give credit to Kentucky’s pitchers for that. But other than that I’m like, hey, that’s a good game. It’s a 1-0 ballgame for the rest of the game and that’s all we really could expect. It’s been a couple years since we’ve been in the NCAA Tournament, so the only people we had returning were our three seniors. So postseason experience is valuable and you have to go through it. Sometimes going through it is not pleasant, but it makes you tougher down the road because you say, ‘Oh, I’ve been here before. I’ve done that. I know what to expect. I know how it’s going to all play out and I know what to do to make it better or different.’”

On if he thinks they have an advantage going into tomorrow’s game vs. Marshall with how many innings Marshall played today …
“Well, I think definitely Marshall and Illinois had to play a lot longer than we did. Theirs was three-and-a-half hours. Ours was like an hour (and) 40. I think it’s more about the game time – the time that you’re out there in the sun and in the weather. I’m pretty sure that both teams are going to throw their same pitchers tomorrow. Those are their aces, whereas Missy (Zoch) is relatively fresh. She probably threw about 60, 70 pitches less than either of the other two pitchers. I think we might have a little bit of an advantage, but these are two experienced teams. These are two teams that their RPIs are in the 30s. Our RPI was 105. So, you know, it’s very valuable for us to get out there and play better from the start tomorrow against Marshall. We want to play crisp and fast and clean – you know, get our pitchers and defense off the field as fast we can and get our bats going, and hopefully tomorrow that’s something that we have. I would say I would rather have a pitcher who threw 104 or whatever Missy threw than 174 – what I heard the Marshall girl threw.”

On what the biggest difference is game planning between today’s game and tomorrow’s game …
“Well, the biggest difference is hopefully it’s not 5-0 after the first inning. You know what I’m saying? We just want to keep it – we want to stay right there. And we did kind of tell them after the first inning: ‘Let’s just play the game as if it’s 0-0.’ And that was their approach. You could see a big difference defensively in the way that Missy pitched. We like to say before every game: start fast, finish strong and play like a Demon in the middle. Today, Kentucky started fast. We didn’t start fast or finish strong from an offensive point of view. So, if you could do that tomorrow, then you’re going to in the ballgame longer or you’re going to be in charge of the ballgame. I think every kid on our team feels like we can win two games tomorrow. I kind of said that to them after the game because we’ve had kind of a rollercoaster season in that, ‘Why would we win the first game? That would be the easy way. This way we get to play more games. We want to play together, we want to be together longer or as long as we can. This is the only way you can play more games is to lose the first one.’ And they all laughed and chuckled at that. They’re loose. They’re ready to go. They know that they deserve to be here and I think tomorrow I think they want to prove they deserve to be here.”

DePaul Student-Athletes

#7, Dylan Christensen, 1B/OF, Sr.
On why it was tough for DePaul to bat against Kentucky’s pitching … 
“She (Prince) definitely had a drop ball that we were having a hard time laying off of, or at least getting to the right bat angle to get that ball lifted and get it as a line drive. We obviously had a lot of ground outs. She was consistent. She hit her spots and she did a great job today.”

#6, Missy Zoch, P, Fr.
On how the delay affected her … 
“I think it made me more nervous honestly, I thought ‘can we just get this going?’ But, I think that first inning, I expected that from myself, but like you said I really overcame that first inning and I’m proud of myself for that.”

On being surprised at Kentucky getting hot so early … 
“I was really surprised. I really thought to myself that I knew that we got here for a reason so I knew we can compete. I had to let that go and stay upbeat for my team.”