Softball Faces No. 1 Florida in Super Regionals Saturday
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After rolling through the NCAA South Bend Regional with three straight wins, including a victory over No. 16 national seed Notre Dame, the Kentucky softball team looks to continue its winning ways this weekend when it travels to face No. 1 overall seed Florida in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
The Super Regional will get underway Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU before a Noon ET start on Sunday on ESPN. An if necessary game three is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN. Mark Neely and former Arizona All-American infielder Jenny Dalton-Hill will be on the call for every game, which will be available online through WatchESPN. Live stats will also be available on UKathletics.com.
Kentucky's appearance in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional is its third straight appearance in a Super Regional and fourth in the last five years. The Wildcats' first Super Regional came in 2011 against Cal before falling to Arizona State in the NCAA Tempe Super Regional in 2013. Last year, UK traveled to the NCAA Los Angeles Super Regional and defeated highly ranked UCLA for a berth in the Women's College World Series.
The Wildcats enter the weekend with three straight wins for the first time since mid-March after facing the second toughest schedule in the nation. The Wildcats entered the NCAA Tournament having lost seven straight games, but quickly turned things around with three impressive performances to claim the NCAA South Bend Regional championship.
Kentucky's tournament run started with a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Northwestern last Friday with freshmen Rachael Metzger hitting a pinch-hit RBI single in the sixth inning and sophomore pitcher Meagan Prince tossing two scoreless relief innings. After a 5-0 victory over Ball State in the winner's bracket game Saturday, UK earned another come-from-behind win Sunday against highly ranked Notre Dame with senior catcher Griffin Joiner scoring two runs on a single and junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley shutting the door in the seventh inning.
Florida, the defending national champions which enter the weekend ranked No. 1 in the NCAA RPI and ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25, rank high nationally in several areas, including sixth in earned run average, first in fielding percentage, 31st in home runs per game, 15th in scoring and 24th in slugging percentage. The Gators are 53-6 overall this season with a 27-2 mark at home. UF went 18-5 in conference play to win the SEC regular-season title. The Gators advanced to the Super Regional with wins over Florida A&M, Hofstra and Florida Atlantic.
Offensively, the Gators are hitting .312 as a team with 410 runs scored and 72 home runs. Junior infielder Kelsey Stewart leads the team with a .451 average, adding 16 doubles, 10 triples, two homers, 40 RBI and 22 stolen bases, while senior pitcher/infielder Lauren Haeger is hitting .335 with eight doubles, 15 homers, 63 RBI and a .653 slugging percentage. Senior outfielder Bailey Castro is hitting .322 in 121 at-bats with 17 homers and 36 RBI, while junior utility player Taylore Fuller has 13 homers and 54 RBI. Nicole DeWitt is hitting .360 with 10 doubles and 26 RBI, while Kirsti Merritt is hitting .329 with 12 doubles and eight homers.
Haeger is the leader in the circle for the Gators, sitting 26-1 on the season with a 1.34 ERA in 172.1 innings pitched with only 33 earned runs allowed and 183 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .188 against Haeger, while freshman Aleshia Ocasio is limiting opponents to a .199 average with a 17-3 record and 1.99 ERA in 130 innings pitched with 152 strikeouts. Sophomore Delanie Gourley is 10-2 this year with a 2.15 ERA in 78.0 innings pitched with 104 strikeouts.
Florida leads the all-time series against Kentucky 45-13, including a 13-7 record over the Wildcats during Rachel Lawson's tenure. Kentucky faced Florida in SEC regular-season action in early April, dropping all three games to the Gators in several tightly contested battles. The Gators claimed the series opener 1-0 before a 6-3 victory in game two and 2-0 victory in game three.
Nunley tossed 12 innings in the series and was impressive, allowing just three earned runs with eight strikeouts and limited the Gators to a .214 average. Prince tossed 3.2 innings and allowed six earned runs, while freshman Erin Rethlake pitched 2.1 innings and did not allow a hit. The Gators scored nine runs over the three-game stretch, which was its second lowest scoring output in a SEC series, while Nunley limited the Gators in the series opener to just three infield singles and one run - marking only the fourth time UF had been held to one run or less all season.
Offensively, Joiner and junior infielder Christian Stokes each hit home runs, while junior Maisie Steed hit a double. The Wildcats held a 2-0 lead in Saturday's game before a six-run fourth inning put the Gators in control.
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Gainesville Super Regional -- May 23-24 -- Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium -- Gainesville, Fla.
NCAA Gainesville Super Regional Schedule
Saturday, May 23
Game 1 -- Kentucky vs. Florida -- 1 p.m. ET -- ESPNU -- Live Stats
Sunday, May 23
Game 2 -- Florida vs. Kentucky -- Noon ET -- ESPN -- Live Stats
Game 3 -- Kentucky vs. Florida -- 3 p.m. ET -- ESPN -- Live Stats -- *if necessary