Lawson has UK softball two wins from College World Series

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMay 24, 2011 

  • Super Regionals

    California at Kentucky
    When: 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPN) and 3:30 p.m. Sunday if necessary
    Where: UK Softball Complex
    Series: Cal leads 1-0

It wasn't that long ago that Rachel Lawson could barely imagine Kentucky advancing to its own conference tournament, let alone an NCAA Tournament.

As a new coach, Lawson was sitting down with a UK administrator discussing performance incentives in her contract.

That administrator, Lisa Peterson, was outlining bonuses Lawson would receive if UK advanced to the Southeastern Conference Tournament (the top eight teams advance) and the NCAA Tournament.

Lawson laughed.

"I remember thinking, 'My God, if I make the SEC Tournament this year, then I should be getting a Cadillac or something,'" she recalled.

That was in 2007.

Fast forward to now and Lawson has the Cats cruising like a Cadillac, just one home weekend series away from advancing to softball's College World Series.

After a dramatic 2-1 victory over No. 2 Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend, Kentucky (39-14) advances to the program's first NCAA Super Regional, where it will host No. 7 California at the UK Softball Complex on Saturday and Sunday.

Peterson said she had a lot of respect for Lawson when she hired her, but she never expected the program would grow so quickly.

"If you would have told me we'd be going to the Super Regional by this time, yeah, I'd be surprised," Peterson said. "This year was amazing. ... But would I have thought we'd be going to the Super Regional and hosting it? Not in my wildest dreams."

Peterson had faith in Lawson, the straight-shooting coach who said in her interview, without a tinge of arrogance, that she would win at Kentucky.

"When she was at Western Kentucky beating us, I believed her," Peterson said. "She used to rake her own field there and do that kind of stuff, so when she was able to come here and just coach, I believed she could succeed."

But even Lawson, who played in a College World Series at Massachusetts in 1992, admitted she had her doubts that UK could come this far this fast.

"If you'd have asked me four years ago if I'd be sitting here one weekend away from the World Series, I think I would have smiled at that one," she said.

Lawson has been a big reason for the program's success, which has included three consecutive 30-plus-win seasons and a school-record 39 wins this season.

Lawson's confidence in her players has paid off. Annie Rowlands, who batted .151 all season, got the game-winning single over Michigan on Sunday. Meagan Aull hit a key home run over the right-field wall when she only had nine all season.

"Those are things that typically don't happen, but they have the confidence from (Lawson) that they can happen, that anything can happen," Peterson said.

The 38-year-old coach has taken UK from a floundering program to one of the NCAA Tournament's best Cinderella stories.

"All the credit goes to Coach Lawson," said Aull, a senior from Owensboro. "She works so hard day in and day out. ... Coach will stay up hours. I don't even know if she sleeps, she watches so much film."

Lawson, a Billings, Mont., native and one of 12 children, admitted that sleep is a luxury when you're building a program.

"Generally if I can get four hours of sleep, I'm pretty happy," she said. "For me that's pretty good; I'm rolling on all cylinders. ... If I can get my four hours and my pretzels, I'm pretty good."

Ticket information

Tickets are still available for UK's Super Regional with California at the UK Softball Complex on Saturday and Sunday.

A single-session ticket for the three-game series is $10 for adults and $7 for children under 18 and adults older than 65.

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