There seemingly is no off switch on Meagan Prince’s competitive spirit. Not even the mundane routine of daily campus life can dull the Kentucky softball pitching ace’s desire to get the better of some unsuspecting rival.
“Simple things,” Prince said in describing what ignites her competitiveness. “Walking to class. Having to walk faster than the person next to me. Yeah, that’s not always a good thing, but it does show up.”
No, Prince said with a chuckle, she will not resort to an elbow in the ribs, if that might seem necessary to get past that person unaware that the walk to class is a competition.
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“I just make sure I walk faster,” she said.
UK’s softball team welcomes Prince’s thirst for competition, especially with a super regional at third-seeded Oregon beginning Friday. Prince has shown an ability to rise to the occasion. The bigger the stage, the better she likes it. And a best-of-three to get to the World Series most definitely represents a big stage.
“She’s always into it,” UK Coach Rachel Lawson said, “but there’s an extra gear that she has that just happens to her when she’s playing a formidable opponent on the big stage. She’s always been that way. That’s actually why Meagan was recruited. You don’t normally see a player of her (small) stature on this stage. And the reason she is is because she’s not only good, she has an awesome attitude.
“She is by far one of the most competitive people I’ve met.”
Prince, one of only three seniors on the Kentucky team, said her competitive spirit has long been a character trait. Tellingly, she had not been UK’s No. 1 pitcher until this season.
“I’ve always come in as the second pitcher,” she said. “I’ve never been the ace right off the bat. I’ve always had to fight to prove I can compete with the ace, and that I could potentially be the ace.
“And I think having that constant fight my entire life, even since I started, which was 8 (years old). I had to fight for that ace position and prove myself.”
She’s always into it, but there’s an extra gear that she has that just happens to her when she’s playing a formidable opponent on the big stage.
Rachel Lawson, UK head coach
Oregon (50-6) continues to be a perennial softball force. The Ducks will play in a super regional for an eighth straight year, which is the tenure of Coach Mike White. In that time, Oregon has a 24-0 record in the regional games that lead up to a super regional.
Prince excelled similarly as Kentucky won the Lexington regional last weekend. Of UK’s three victories, she won twice as a starter and got the save in the third game. With the save, she tied Kelsey Nunley’s program record for career saves (nine) and saves in a season (five). She has a win-loss record of 21-7 this season.
When asked about her ability to rise to the occasion, Prince joked, “Maybe it’s just luck.”
More seriously, she welcomed the challenge of facing Oregon.
“I think I thrive on competition,” she said. “That’s why I like to pitch. Because I love the one-on-one competition between me and the batter. And when you’re in that big moment, the competition gets hyped up a lot more.”
What also gets hyped up, Prince said, was “just that want to win.”
I’ve always come in as the second pitcher. I’ve never been the ace right off the bat. I’ve always had to fight to prove I can compete with the ace, and that I could potentially be the ace.
Meagan Prince, UK pitcher
Lawson spoke of Kentucky riding momentum into the super regional. Led by freshman Alex Martens, UK got timely hitting last weekend. Pitching and defense were solid.
“Overall, I think we’re rolling pretty well right now,” Lawson said.
Whatever happens in Oregon, which is UK’s fifth trip to a super regional in the last seven years, will further stamp Kentucky as a recognized softball program.
Of UK continuing its history of super regional appearances, Lawson said, “It means a lot to us because we were able to take many different types of teams. … For you to be a mainstay in regionals and a mainstay in super regionals, and the fact we’ve gotten a national seed the last two years, that just shows you the program continues to climb and climb.”
What: NCAA Tournament best-of-three super-regional series (round of 16)
Who: No. 14 overall seed Kentucky (39-17) at No. 3 seed Oregon (50-6)
Where: Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
When: 7 p.m. Friday (ESPNU); 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2), 3 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU), if necessary
Last meeting: Oregon beat Kentucky 5-4 on Feb. 17 at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif.