LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky went undefeated in the first three games of the NCAA Tournament and will compete in the NCAA Super Regionals next week against top-seeded Oregon in Eugene.
Kentucky, the No. 16 seed, defeated University of Illinois Chicago and defeated Notre Dame twice to sweep the Lexington Regional for the second straight season. Overall, Kentucky allowed just three hits and the pitching staff threw just 189 pitches.
“It was a great weekend, but also for the whole year to set us up so we could host a regional,” Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said. “You know, it was earlier in the year and the snow and the rain and everybody knows how terrible it was, but we had a week where we had I think it was like 24 people were shoveling the snow off of our field so that we could get two games in. And I believe winning those two games set us up to have the record that we did at the end, so it didn’t hurt us and I believe gave us the RPI that we needed, helped push us over the edge to host.”
The Wildcats outscored the opposition 28-1 in 16 innings during the three-day event that was hampered by rain in the opening round, forcing the Wildcats to play two games Saturday.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Lawson said. “I’ve said all year, every team I’ve had has worked incredibly hard, and I’ve always had people who have worked on their own and tremendously. What this team does though, is I have more of them. Like I have probably 15 or 16 girls that on their off days, they come in and they workout and they’re not only doing that, they’re doing it with focus and they’re doing it with purpose.
“About three weeks ago, I could tell we weren’t really going where we needed to go offensively so we made a complete offensive switches in our approach and really we just simplified things. And the cool thing was, in order to make that kind of a change at this time of the season, the team has to first trust that the coach knows what she’s doing and then they have to be willing to go in to work in doing it. “
Erin Rethlake capped the successful weekend by tossing a one-hitter in Kentucky’s 8-0 win over the Irish in six innings Sunday at Joe Cropp Stadium.
“I felt great about Erin,” Lawson said. “I woke up this morning, watched a little video and I knew she had this. So, I felt really good about her and feel good about her going forward.”
Rethlake didn’t mind the late call from her coach and said the team’s defense was also the difference in the outcome.
“Coach Lawson obviously knows the pitch call,” Rethlake said. “She scouts a crazy amount. So, today was just about trusting whatever she called, believing my stuff was good enough and relying on the defense to make plays behind me.”
The Wildcats became just the third time in NCAA history under the current format to force the run rule on all three opponents in the regional and a two-run home run by Alex Martens in the second inning set the tone for the remainder of the finale. Rachael Metzger’s double cleared the bases with three runs runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Abbey Cheek sealed it for the hosts with a walk-off homer in the sixth inning for the final margin and said the team’s unselfish approach on offense resulted in the offensive breakout in the team’s three games to open the NCAA Tournament.
“One thing we do focus on is passing the bat down,” she said. “So, it can’t be just one person in the lineup doing it. If we have multiple people stepping up and doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re going to get far. We’re going to be really good against Oregon if we keep on passing the bat down because not just one person is going to win the game for us.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday or twitter @keithtaylor21.