ncaa softball super regional

Softball Cats put up fight before the fall

California's ace silences Wildcats' bats in deciding game

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMay 30, 2011 

Rachel Lawson paused for a few minutes to steady herself.

"I hate it when I do this," said the Kentucky softball coach, fighting back tears.

She took a deep breath, inhaling quickly and exhaling slowly.

Lawson's UK team was one game — possibly just one poor inning — from beating seventh-seeded California and advancing to the College World Series for the first time in school history.

But it wasn't meant to be on this Sunday at the UK Softball Complex.

The Bears rebounded from an 8-0 five-inning trouncing by the Cats in the first game Sunday to topple UK 9-0 in the decisive third game and earn their trip to the World Series.

Even though her program ended the season with a school-record 40 wins while advancing to the NCAA super regionals for the first time in school history, Lawson couldn't help but want more for her players and the four seniors who have helped turn around Kentucky's program.

"I wanted them to go to the World Series," Lawson explained, "'cause so far I'm the only one that's been there, and I'm tired of having the upper hand on them."

Kentucky's players nearly caught their coach, but couldn't when they struggled to keep up with Bears ace Jolene Henderson in the final game.

After being battered for six hits and five runs in two innings, the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year was sent to the locker room to regroup for the decisive game.

Henderson said it was a hairstyle change coupled with an attitude adjustment that helped her overcome a bad start against Kentucky.

"I did terrible in the first game," Henderson said after the series was over. "I redid my hair. I don't know why; I just had to start over with something. I came out more mentally prepared. I know what our team wanted to do this season. I was not going to let that not happen."

The right-hander used her changeup to keep Cats hitters off balance in the final game, holding them without a hit until the fourth inning.

Henderson gave up just three hits in all while fanning seven in seven complete innings.

"She had a whole different swagger the second game," UK's Megan Yocke said of Henderson. "She was walking around like that was her ballpark."

Kentucky's best shot to change the pitcher's swagger came in the sixth inning, but the Cats couldn't capitalize with the bases loaded.

After being blasted for 10 hits in the second game of the series, Cal Coach Diane Ninemire was pleased to see her team respond with the World Series berth on the line.

"Our players really rose to the occasion," she said. "Our hitting was not up to its standard the first game, and I think everybody took that to heart and knew that we had to dig in deep."

In the decisive game against UK starter Chanda Bell, Cal's Jordan Wallace had a two-run double, which was part of a five-run first inning that blew the game open.

"That first inning really set the tone," Ninemire said. "Then we keep adding on it a little bit each inning."

Wallace said UK's big win motivated the Bears to come back big.

"It didn't make us feel real great," she said. "We wanted to bring it back to them."

Jace Williams had hits in three of her four at-bats, and Frani Echavarria and Victoria Jones added two hits apiece in the Bears' win.

Kentucky's Rachel Riley, who was solid in the first game on Sunday, allowing five hits in five complete shutout innings with no walks, was brought back in the first inning to replace Bell.

But the damage was done.

Riley held California for a while, but the Bears broke through again in the sixth with a one-run double from Wallace.

In the seventh inning, California added three runs on three hits, including a two-run home run by Lindsey Ziegenhirt.

After the loss, UK players came out of their dugout to salute the remaining fans of the 1,690 who showed up on Sunday despite the steamy conditions.

"In like a week — probably even two days — we're going to feel pretty good about everything we've done," an emotional Lawson said, "but we are girls, and this is about the only time it shows is when things are over."

But UK's players expect bigger and better things will come for this program.

Forty wins "is the expectation now, right coach?" Yocke asked her coach with a smile.

"This is a great foundation for this team," Yocke continued. "They have a ton of returners coming back next year, so I expect nothing less than what we did this year, if not more."

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