Thanks to shortstop Katie Reed, Kentucky did more Sunday than advance to an NCAA softball super regional. Reed gave UK’s 4-2 victory over Illinois a moment that both teams said could inspire greater respect and appreciation for the sport itself.
Reed dove to her left to snag a hard-hit ball zipping up the middle, sprang to her feet in an instant and threw to first for the out.
“That was unbelievable,” UK second baseman Alex Martens said after the game. “That was amazing. . . . Stopping it alone was huge. But getting up and making that out was really big.”
ESPN thought so, too. And that’s where the respect and appreciation enter the story. Reed’s display of skill and athleticism par excellence made the “SportsCenter” Top 10 plays on Sunday, something Illinois Coach Tyra Perry all but predicted in her postgame news conference.
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“To see softball on ‘SportsCenter’ Top 10, you know, that’s huge,” Perry said when asked about Reed’s play. “It was kind of unheard of when I played. To have something like that happen, I think it’s just a testament to the sport.”
UK Coach Rachel Lawson took the thought further. She said the impact of ESPN’s salute to Reed’s play could extend beyond softball.
“If you told me five years ago that women would be on ‘SportsCenter,’ and getting voted for Top 10 plays . . . I’d have told you you were crazy,” Lawson said Monday. “It also shows you how far softball has come. And I’m really pumped that Kentucky is part of that.”
This season Reed became the eighth player in program history to be named to the All-Southeastern Conference First Team. She said it was “pretty awesome” to be a Top 10 trail blazer. She was the third UK player to make a Top 10 play. Christian Stokes and Erin Rethlake did it last season.
“Softball has been growing a lot over the last few years,” Reed said. “It’s great for softball and female sports.”
A sophomore from St. Louis, Reed said she had no time to think as the ball shot up the middle. No immediate thought like, geez, that ball is smoked.
“No, not really,” she said. “It was all acting on instincts.”
If you told me five years ago that women would be on ‘SportsCenter,’ and getting voted for top 10 plays . . . , I’d have told you you were crazy. It also shows you how far softball has come. And I’m really pumped that Kentucky is part of that.
Rachel Lawson, Kentucky head coach
Only upon reflection — and seeing a replay — could Reed fully appreciate what she had done.
“I laid out for it all the way,” she said. “I like how quickly I was able to get up and make the throw.”
To explain how she could make such a play, Reed credited the training UK players do and the coaching she has received (which began with her parents).
Lawson acknowledged the difficulty of teaching a player to dive, spring to her feet and make an accurate throw in one fluid motion.
I don’t really train Katie to be Katie. She’s just like that.
“She’s just really strong right now,” the UK coach said. “So if you take her instincts, with her can-do attitude, and put that on the field, you’ve got something special.
“I don’t really train Katie to be Katie,” Lawson added. “She’s just like that.”
As if the softball gods wanted to balance the scales, Reed muffed a routine grounder three innings after her Top-10 play. The ball went under her glove and through her legs. It rolled all the way to the outfield fence, thus becoming a three-base error. She said she expected a bigger bounce.
“It’s a little embarrassing to me because I know that I should be able to make a play like that,” Reed said. “I just accept it and move on. Remember the good ones.”
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.