Wildcats Set to Take on Notre Dame in NCAA Opener
May 19, 2011
ANN ARBOR Mich. - The 21st ranked Kentucky softball team will take the field in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET in its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Wildcats will kick off the Ann Arbor Region with a matchup featuring No. 20 Notre Dame on ESPN2 with Beth Mowins and Jessica Mendoza on the call.
Kentucky (36-14) has risen to new heights under head coach Rachel Lawson in 2011. The Wildcats have been ranked in 14 consecutive weeks in the polls and matched a program record with 36 victories in her fourth season at the helm. The Wildcats also captured five Southeastern Conference series including knocking off top-10 ranked Tennessee and Florida in league action.
UK's offense has been the driving force behind 2011's successful run. Led by the bats of All-SEC performers Meagan Aull, Megan Yocke and Kara Dill the Wildcats have set new standards in five offensive categories including home runs, runs scored, walks, RBI and total bases. Junior Brittany Cervantes paces UK with 14 homers and 49 RBI to lead the way. Yocke has broken the single-season and career-records for walks in her senior season, while Dill paces the offense in batting average and stolen bases. Aull has connected with nine home runs and is having a career season in every offensive category in her break-out year.
Lawson also has a formidable four-player pitching staff to help keep opposing offenses off balance with all four players making at least 10 appearances on the season. Juniors Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley are the veterans who have combined for 24 victories this season and 79 in their careers to become the all-time winningest pitching tandem in school history. Freshmen Ellen Weaver and Lauren Cumbess have added to the mix for the Wildcats and the first-year players combined to go 12-3 in their first seasons.
The Wildcats and Fighting Irish are two of the four squads competing for a bid into the Super Regionals. The 10th overall seed in the 2011 bracket is the host Michigan Wolverines with Western Michigan rounding out the quartet.
Notre Dame (45-9) is making its 10th consecutive bid into the NCAA Tournament under head coach Deanna Gumpf. The Fighting Irish are heading north to Ann Arbor for the fourth consecutive season. UK and Notre Dame have just one similar opponent on the season in Louisville. In the regular season, Notre Dame took two of three games in the series from the Cardinals. However, Louisville topped the Irish in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. UK and Louisville split matchups in their regular season home-and-home series.
Notre Dame is led by Alexa Maldonado who is batting .420 on the season with 14 doubles and 19 stolen bases. Two players have hit 10 or more home runs for Notre Dame led by 12 from the bat of Heather Johnson. As a unit, Notre Dame is batting .334 on the season with 321 runs scored and 71 stolen bases. In the circle, Laura Winter owns a 24-3 overall record with a 2.22 ERA and 208 strikeouts on the year. Friday night's meeting will mark just the second time in program history the two teams have faced. Notre Dame claimed an 8-0 victory over the Wildcats in 2000 in an early season tournament in Bristol, Tenn.
The winner of the Kentucky-Notre Dame game will take on the winner of the Michigan-Western Michigan matchup on May 21 at Noon. The losers of the opening night contests will play at 2:30 p.m. ET. The four-team pod is played in double-elimination format until one team is left standing.
Michigan earns the host site as the tournament's No. 10 overall seed with a 51-4 overall record after earning an automatic bid into the tournament thanks to its fourth straight Big 10 title.
The Wolverines are paced at the dish by Amanda Chidester's .433 average to lead six players batting .300 or higher. Ashley Lane leads the power game with 17 long balls, while Jacyln Crummey is the squad's top base threat with 10 stolen bases. Michigan is using a .332 batting clip on the season with 54 home runs and 363 runs scored on the year.
Jordan Taylor leads the pitching rotation with a 29-3 overall record and a 1.29 ERA. Stephanie Speiman owns a 1.90 ERA and an 18-1 record on the season. Michigan faced just one Southeastern Conference team on the season and downed Arkansas by an 8-0 score in five innings of action.
Western Michigan advances to the NCAA Tournament owning a 22-28 overall record and advanced to the national stage behind an impressive run in the Mid-American Conference tournament. The Broncos captured the title for the first time since 2003 and were the regular season and tournament winners for the first time in school allure.
The Broncos are led at the plate by Gracie Barstad's .362 clip and 11 doubles on the season. Western Michigan uses a .258 batting average as a team and have pounded 31 homers and scored 184 times in 2011.
Meredith Whitney leads the pitchers with a 14-13 record and a squad-best 3.40 ERA. She has struck out 160 batters on the season and limits opposing batters to a .224 batting average.
Follow along all season with the UK softball team at UKathletics.com.
ANN ARBOR SCHEDULE
Friday, May 20
Saturday, May 21
Sunday, May 22