Kentucky, scheduled to begin its NCAA Softball Regional at about 2:30 p.m. Friday, had to sit out a 12-inning duel between Illinois and Marshall at John Cropp Stadium before its first pitch at 4:04 p.m.
Once the Cats got their turn on the field, they wasted no time dispensing with DePaul in a 6-0 victory that was pretty much over after UK’s first at-bat.
Katie Reed, Kentucky’s All-SEC shortstop, led off with a walk against DePaul freshman pitcher Missy Zoch. A sacrifice bunt put her at second, and another walk put two on with one out for UK slugger Abbey Cheek.
Cheek, always a threat to go deep with 12 home runs on the season, hit a nubber about seven feet toward third and beat out the throw to first base. Reed turned around third for home and beat the throw there to put the Cats up 1-0. Then Cheek alertly took second as DePaul tried to gather itself.
That set up a an Alex Martens single up the middle to score Brooklin Hinz, and Martens’ aggressive base running put her at second as the Cats took a 2-0 lead.
Back-to-back doubles by Breanne Ray and Jenny Schaper made it 5-0, and the rout was on.
“Coming out hot is really important to start a game off because you have the momentum and you can back up your pitcher so you pitcher doesn’t have to work as strenuous to get those outs,” said Martens, one of two UK freshmen in the starting lineup. “That’s the most important part is just make sure Meagan (Prince) is relaxed.”
Prince made quick work of DePaul, as well, through six innings, allowing just two hits, one walk and striking out five. She induced 11 groundouts, including a double play in the fifth inning that erased her walk. Erin Rethake came on in the seventh inning to close out the game.
While Zoch, the DePaul freshman, said the delay might have made her a bit more nervous, Prince, a senior, said she needed it.
“When I first started warming up, I was like ‘eh, I don’t feel like I’m very connected today,’ and we took that delay and I honestly felt better,” she said.
Kentucky next faces Illinois at noon Saturday. The Illini survived its marathon with Marshall 3-2. Illinois ace Breanna Wonderly threw 173 pitches in the win, but UK Coach Rachel Lawson expects her to be ready for the Cats if she steps back out.
“The thing about their team is that they’re very feisty and they have a lot of heart,” Lawson said of Illinois. “A lot of times as a pitcher … that adrenaline can kick in and it might not affect her for a few more days. I think we’ve got to out like she’s going to be sharp and it’s going to be her best pitches, if she’s the pitcher on the mound.”
Game 1: Nicole Evans’ RBI single ended a 12-inning, 3 hour and 26 minute marathon, and Illinois defeated Marshall 3-2 in the first game of Friday’s opening round.
Evans, the Illini’s leading hitter with a .361 average, 17 home runs and 55 RBI going into Saturday, came up with runners on first and second with one out, looping a 1-2 pitch to short right-center.
Illinois’ Kiana Sherlund briefly checked to make sure the ball wouldn’t be caught, and was waved around third from second as Marshall centerfielder Eloise Tribolet briefly bobbled the exchange to her throwing hand.
The hit came on Marshall starter Jordan Dixon’s (31-9) 170th pitch of the game. She gave up a single to Sherlund to open the inning before getting Annie Gunther to pop a sacrifice bunt attempt to third. A single by Ruby Rivera put Sherlund in scoring position for Illinois’ most dangerous hitter in Evans. She’d been held to one single until the game-winner.
Wonderly (21-14) went the distance for the win. She gave up two runs on eight hits and a walk. She had eight strikeouts.
NCAA Lexington Regional
Noon: Illinois vs. Kentucky (TV TBA)
2:30 p.m.: Marshall vs. DePaul (TV TBA)
5 p.m.: Noon game loser vs. 2:30 game loser (TV TBA)