Softball Takes Field at NCAA Tournament Thursday
May 13, 2009
The Kentucky softball team is set to make its first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament when they take the field Thursday against BYU. Kentucky and the Cougars will meet at 5 p.m. ET at Ohio State.
Head Coach Rachel Lawson's squad made history a week ago when they upset No. 7 Georgia at the SEC Tournament. The win over the Bulldogs marked the program's first post-season win. Kentucky will look to add to that total in its NCAA Tournament debut.
Kentucky (32-21) is led by All-SEC First Team shortstop Molly Johnson. Johnson was named to the All-Tournament team at the SEC Tournament behind a blistering .714 batting average in the two games. Her two-run home run were the only runs UK needed in the upset of Georgia. She then would go on to a 4-for-4 day against No. 5 Alabama in the extra-inning loss. For the season, Johnson is hitting a team-high .434 with nine home runs, 22 stolen bases and 33 RBI.
The freshmen pitching tandem of Rachel Riley and Chanda Bell has been the driving force behind Kentucky's NCAA bid. Bell has set a number of school records in her first campaign, while Riley has provided a consistent starting arm to the rotation. Riley was the winning pitcher at the SEC Tournament with her second career shutout in the upset over Georgia. She is also a tremendous asset at the plate where she had UK's RBI single in the game against the Crimson Tide. Bell set UK's single-season record with 210 strikeouts on the season. Four times she has thrown a school-best 15 strikeouts in a game. She is one win shy of setting a single-season record for victories in a season.
UK's heart of the batting order of sophomore Megan Yocke and freshman Brittany Cervantes has been the pop to some of the biggest comebacks in school history. Yocke and Cervantes have both provided a number of game-winning hits and home runs in some of the biggest wins of the season. In an upset of top-15 ranked Tennessee, Yocke had a double in the seventh inning to tie the score and send the game into extra frames. In the bottom of the eighth with UK trailing yet again, she delivered another double to score two runs and give the Wildcats a walk-off win. Cervantes blasted a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh against Mississippi State to clinch an SEC Tournament berth for the Blue and White with a sweep of the Bulldogs.
Kentucky has had simply the best season in school history. The Wildcats had the biggest turnaround in school history posting 14 more wins than they did a season ago. UK has charted a number of wins over top-25 ranked opponents while facing one of the toughest schedules in the country.
UK will compete in a double-elimination format among the Columbus Regional that also features No. 11 Ohio State and Canisius for a chance for a Super Regional Bid.
Kentucky's first round match-up features BYU (39-16). The Cougars will make their fifth consecutive tournament run when they open with the Wildcats on Thursday. BYU is led by Jessica Purcell at the plate who is batting .394 for the season. Purcell has an incredible 81 RBI on the season with 17 home runs. The pitching staff is equally impressive with a pair of arms that have a combined 1.78 ERA. Christie Zinanti is 20-7 on the season with Paige Affleck owning a 19-9 overall clip. The pair also has 201 and 199 strikeouts, respectively to form a potent duo.
UK and BYU have faced a number of similar opponents throughout the season. The squads share wins over UNLV and San Diego State. The Cougars also faced three SEC opponents in Alabama, Tennessee and Ole Miss. The Cougars are winless against the Southeastern Conference this season.
In UK's 13 year history they have never matched-up with the Cougars on the diamond.
Should Kentucky win they would move on to play at 2:30 p.m. ET against the winner of Ohio State and Canisius. Should BYU take the opening game, Kentucky would play the loser of the Ohio State-Canisius game at 5:00 p.m. ET.
Live stats will be available at UKathletics.com. A complete recap and coverage from UK's blog Cat Scratches will also be available following UK's historical first-game in the NCAA Tournament.
Stay tuned to UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information about the UK softball team.