LEXINGTON, Ky. – With five runs in the bottom of the first and an additional insurance run in the bottom of the fifth, the No. 14 Kentucky softball team advanced into the winner’s bracket of the 2017 NCAA Softball Lexington Regional on Friday afternoon with a 6-0 win over the DePaul Blue Demons.
The Wildcats will face the Illinois Fighting Illini in the winner’s bracket game at Noon ET on Saturday from John Cropp Stadium. The winner of that game will then move into the regional final on Sunday afternoon, where they will need just one win to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals. Illinois knocked off Marshall in a thrilling 3-2 win in 12 innings in the first game on Friday.
Kentucky’s offense came out swinging in the first inning on Friday night, scoring five runs on four hits in the opening frame to put away the Blue Demons early. Combine that with stellar pitching from Meagan Prince and Erin Rethlake in the circle, and it was a winning formula for Rachel Lawson.
All of Saturday’s games in the Lexington Regional will be shown on an ESPN platform to be announced late Friday night.
Five. The Kentucky offense plated five runs in the first inning, the most first-inning runs scored in a single game this year for the Wildcats.
Jenny Schaper’s two-RBI double to the gap in right center made it a 5-0 game in the bottom of the first inning, and was the key play in Friday’s decisive win.
Alex Martens was the key player for Kentucky, going 2-for-3 at the plate with two RBI hits in the game. Martens plated UK’s second run of the game in the bottom of the first inning with a single to right field, and then scored Abbey Cheek from first base on an RBI double to right in the bottom of the fifth.
Katie Reed led off the bottom of the first inning with a walk, and came around to score on an infield single by Abbey Cheek with one out. Alex Martens then singled in Brooklin Hinz, who walked, and that made it 2-0 UK with one out in the inning. Breanne Ray doubled off the second basemen’s glove and into right field to score Cheek and that made it 3-0. The fourth-straight UK hit was a two-RBI double by Jenny Schaper into the gap in right center. UK 5, DePaul 0
Kentucky would play add-on in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Martens doubled to center field to score Abbey Cheek from first base, who got on with a fielder’s choice earlier in the inning. FINAL – (14) Kentucky 6, DePaul 0
Kentucky Head Coach Rachel Lawson
“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 staff 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.”
#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.”