NCAA Tournament blog
The future is bright
Posted on Saturday at 6:59 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
With four mammoth Ohio State swats, UK’s softball season effectively came to an end.
For a storybook season, it seemed like it was lacking a fairytale ending. But don’t let the loss to the Buckeyes fool you – this season was without question the most special in the program’s 13-year history.
“It doesn’t feel like it right now, but it’s been a good season for us,” head coach Rachel Lawson said. “We’ve had a lot of firsts. I’m very proud of the team and I’m very proud of their postseason run.”
Ending the season on a loss is never easy, but there was reason to smile after Saturday’s loss in Columbus, Ohio. Sure, there were a few tears among the players and their families as they closed out the historic season, but they weren’t tears of disappointment.
Looking back at all the things they had accomplished, most notably, taking a 17-win team from a year ago and transforming it into the program’s first NCAA Tournament team, it was hard not to cry. After all, it took hard work, sweat and tears to make such a giant turnaround.
“Obviously it’s disappointing losing, but I think we made it a lot farther than a lot of people were probably expecting considering it was our first postseason,” junior shortstop Molly Johnson said. “I think next year people should watch out.”
Is it too early to already look ahead to next year? Maybe not.
If there was a silver lining to this weekend’s games in the Columbus Regional, it’s that the Cats have the talent to make it to a Super Regional and beyond. Experience is often times overrated, but in UK’s case this weekend, it was a huge hurdle to overcome.
Carrying the pressure of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the very first time, there was little doubt that the Cats had some jitters and nerves on the big stage. They weren’t satisfied with being there, but they were a little wide-eyed at the thought of competing for a national championship.
That wasn’t the sole reason the Cats lost in the opening game to Brigham Young, but it was certainly a factor. UK regrouped in the two games Friday and looked like the strongest team in the tournament.
While they couldn’t pull out the regional championship, they gained some invaluable experience for a team that will return virtually every player next year, minus senior Katie McCarty.
“You learn that once you play your game and you come out like you have all season and you relax, you belong here with everybody,” Lawson said. “Every team that makes it this far is obviously a very good team or they wouldn’t be here.”
Next year’s team will be loaded. Veterans Molly Johnson and Natalie Smith will return as the senior leaders of the team, a role they’ve essentially had since their sophomore years. And once you factor the fact that the talented sophomore and freshman classes will be one year older and one year stronger, it’s hard not to raise the bar and get excited for next year.
Sure, the Cats lost Saturday afternoon, but they’ve tasted what it takes to be championship caliber team now. Next year they’ll want more, and now they have the experience and blueprint to do it.
“We didn’t really ever realize how good we are,” junior Annie Rowland said. “Now that we know and we’ve seen it, we can definitely comeback next year and have higher expectations and exceed them.”
Softball, baseball swing on
Posted on Saturday at 2:35 a.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Going to make this short and sweet considering the time I'm posting and the fact that we have an early morning drive back to Columbus, Ohio, in about six or seven hours (no, we did not stay in a hotel up there).
Anyway, stating the obvious for most of you following along, but we will back in the Buckeye State blogging the softball team as it continues its run in its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Cats will face Ohio State, the No. 11 overall seed, at 1 p.m., but we'll have the blog fired up by about 12:40 p.m.
UK will obviously have its hands full for two reasons. For one, the Buckeyes haven't lost a game yet, so the Cats will have to beat the Buckeyes twice in a row in order to advance to Super Regionals. Should UK win at 1 p.m., the teams will turn right around and play at approximately 3:30 p.m.
And if beating the Buckeyes wasn't already tough enough, the Cats will also being playing a hostile environment considering Ohio State is the host. In the two games Ohio State has played so far, the Scarlet and Gray fans have packed New Buckeye Field. UK has a strong contingent up in Columbus, but it's clearly a home game for the Buckeyes.
If UK is going to win two more Saturday, it will need exactly what it got today: a balanced offensive attack.
I think you can pretty much count on the arms of Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley coming through. They've done it all year long. But what will really determine Saturday's games will hinge on how UK's hitters fare from the top of the order all the way down to the bottom.
The Cats have been strong one through four in the batting order all year long, but the bottom of the order has struggled mightily with consistency. On Friday that wasn't the case.
UK got contributions from just about everybody in the order, including the bottom. The second half of the lineup (hitters five through nine) mustered a combined nine hits in the two games Friday. The Cats will need to put up similar numbers Saturday to sweep the Buckeyes.
As big as the softball victories were today, let's not forget about the huge day baseball had. UK entered this weekend on life support for the eighth and final spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but with a game to go, the Cats remain alive.
Thanks to Chad Wright's game-saving catch and the spoiling of Tennessee, UK is just a half game out of making the tournament. The Cats beat No. 11 Florida on Friday after Wright robbed a game-tying grand slam in the ninth, and Vanderbilt dropped its second straight to Tennessee.
To get in, the dominoes need to fall the Cats way one more time. UK has to win its game with the Gators at 4 p.m. on Saturday and hope the Commodores slip up to the Volunteers once again. Otherwise, the season is over for the Cats.
But that's going to wrap it up for me tonight, or I should say this morning. Again, we'll be with you blogging the softball regional all day Saturday, including baseball updates via the blog and Twitter.
See you in a few hours.
UK's recruiting class tops in the nation
As if the folks in Lexington didn't already know, Scout.com has tabbed Kentucky's recruiting class No. 1 for 2009. Scout becomes the second major recruiting site to vault UK atop the recruiting rankings, as Rivals.com named John Calipari's first recruiting class tops in the nation a few weeks ago.
In the latest rankings, Dave Telep ranks DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton five-star prospects, Eric Bledsoe and Jon Hood as four-star prospects, and Darnell Dodson as a three-star prospect.
Of UK's current ensemble of talent, Telep wrote: "Cal put on his rally cap, twittered a bunch of recruits and landed on a goldmine in LexVegas."
The rich just keep getting richer. Or something like that.
Anyway, I'm finally off to Columbus. I'll talk to you all in a little bit.
Back to Columbus
Posted on Friday at 11:17 a.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Same drill as yesterday everybody. We'll be heading back to Columbus, Ohio, to live blog the softball game.
As most of you all know, the Cats dropped their opener to Brigham Young 6-2, but because it's a double-elimination format tournament, they remain alive. To win the Columbus Regional, UK now has to win four straight, starting with this evening's game at 5 p.m. against Canisius.
Ohio State defeated Canisius 3-0 in the finale yesterday, meaning the loser of the UK-Canisius game is eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. If the Cats can win at 5 p.m., they'll have to turn right back around and face the loser of the Ohio State-BYU game (today at 2:30 p.m.) in another elimination game at 7:30 p.m.
Just like yesterday, we'll be with you live from Columbus every step of the way. Follow along on the live blog for in-game updates, statistics, commentary, analysis and more, including questions and comments from you, the fans.
We're leaving Lexington at around 12:30 this afternoon to head north, so I'll once again be away from the blog until we hit Columbus. If any breaking news passes my way, we'll update you via the UK Athletics Twitter account.
Also, before I get off here, let me remind everybody that somehow the UK baseball team is still alive. Despite a loss to No. 11 Florida last night, UK remained a game and a half back for the eighth and final spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament because Vanderbilt fell to Tennessee.
But the Cats' backs are squarely against the wall. To get in, UK must win its final two games against the Gators and hope the Commodores drop two more to the Volunteers. Otherwise, the season will effectively end for the Cats.
Senior Chris Rusin will get the ball on the mound tonight for the Cats at 6:30 p.m. in Gainesville, Fla. Stay tuned to UKathletics.com for all your latest baseball and softball news.
Do or die for baseball
Posted on Thursday at 12:01 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Tonight could be it for the Kentucky baseball team.
If Kentucky loses to Florida at 6:30 p.m. and Vanderbilt defeats Tennessee at 7 p.m., the Cats will be officially eliminated from the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Right now, the Cats sit a game and a half behind the Commodores for the eighth and the final spot in the tournament. Obviously, the Cats have a steep hill to climb.
Here's a quick rundown of what would have to happen for UK to get in:
If Vanderbilt wins one game, Kentucky must sweep the SEC East Division leader Florida Gators. If reeling Tennessee can somehow sweep Vandy, Kentucky could go 2-1 and sneak in the tournament.
But that's it. Barring a weather-related cancellation, that's the only way the Cats can get in. It isn't the best scenario, but there is still a hint of life.
Softball live blog tonight
Posted on Thursday at 11:21 a.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Cat Scratches will be hosting a live blog tonight as the Kentucky softball team embarks on its first NCAA Tournament appearance. The Wildcats will take on Brigham Young at 5 p.m., followed by the Ohio State-Canisius game at 7:30 p.m.
Live from Columbus, Ohio, Cat Scratches will host a live chat to bring you in-game updates, statistics, commentary and analysis, and fans can also join in the chat by sending their questions and comments. The live chat will start at 4:45 p.m.
Of course, that also means that the blog will be relatively quiet this afternoon as I travel to Columbus to watch the game. If there is any breaking news to pass along as I make my way through the Buckeye State, I'll be sure to send it out via the UK Athletics Twitter account.
To get you through the afternoon, check out these stories from yesterday's news conference:
Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes that John Calipari rolls out plan for change.
Tipton also writes that Calipari tries to temper expectations.
Among the things John Clay hits on in his random notes, he says the UK job is not big enough for Calipari.
Tipton reports that it's time for Patterson to lead.
Dawson also writes about Calipari wanting to cultivate a relationship with China.
His colleague Eric Crawford has a column on former Wildcat Rajon Rondo's path to greatness.
Couple of stories from Larry Vaught of the Danville Advocate-Messenger: He writes that Patrick Patterson helped himself with the NBA by his recent actions and that if Jodie Meeks is a first-rounder, Calipari thinks he should go.