LOUISVILLE — The last time Kentucky played softball at Louisville, Ulmer Stadium was packed for an NCAA Regional battle last May.
Wednesday, with a tournament feel for a regular-season game, the Cardinals got the better of the Wildcats 5-1 before a sellout crowd of 1,415.
"It's tremendous. ... Both UK and I, we've really come up over the last few years and we've really put ourselves on the map," U of L Coach Sandy Pearsall said of the atmosphere. "To have that is huge for the state. You think about where softball was 15 years ago, it's booming here."
Kentucky counterpart Rachel Lawson, although unhappy to be on the losing end, agreed.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"It's an awesome thing. ... I believe other than the states of Arizona, California and Texas, which are softball hotbeds, Kentucky's the only other state that has two teams in the top 25," Lawson said. "So if you would have said that five years ago, nobody in the softball world would have believed that. The state of Kentucky for all sports, but (especially) for softball and baseball, has just exploded and nobody would have guessed that that would have been happening. And I have a feeling that's here to stay for a while."
No. 11 U of L (29-6) did all the damage it needed when Kayla Soles smacked a three-run homer to left field in the second inning.
"It's UK. It's a huge game," Soles said. "You want to get that lead and you want to hold the lead."
With one out, UK starter Lauren Cumbess (6-3) hit a batter and walked one to set the table for Soles' drive.
The Cardinals added two in the fifth on an infield single, Alicja Wolny's triple and Hannah Kiyohara's RBI-single.
No. 20 UK (24-10) squandered early chances as U of L right-hander Caralisa Connell walked two in each of the first three innings, and threw wild pitches in each of the first two innings.
"It's infuriating, I'll be honest with you," Lawson said of the wasted chances. "You work so hard on making sure you're swinging at good pitches, and we did a good job of taking our walks when they gave them to us. But we just didn't come up with a hard, timely hit. Any time you get that many baserunners on and you don't capitalize, you're not going to beat a team as good as Louisville."
Conner held Kentucky hitless until pinch-hitter Sylver Samuel reached on a sixth-inning infield hit. She scored on UK's only solid hit of the game, Krystal Smith's two-out double gapper to right-center.
"I came in with a lot of adrenaline. ... I was getting myself into a little bit of a backward spiral where I would walk a batter," Conner said. "I had to think 'calm down, let's go, they're not hitting it right now, just throw it over the plate.' Once, I had that one inning where I got three up three down (the fourth), I didn't walk a batter. After that I felt better and I was more relaxed, because I was really tight at the beginning of the game."
Connell (19-2) went the distance, striking out four and walking seven.
"It's so much fun. We talked about (the rivalry) all week," Conner said. "Especially with our men's basketball team and women's basketball team (both in the Final Four), we've been so hyped up, ready to go. ... It's always great to beat Kentucky."
LOUISVILLE 5, KENTUCKY 1
Kentucky 000 001 0 — 1 2 2
Louisville 030 020 x — 5 5 1
Cumbess, Nunley (3) and Joiner; Connell and Ruckenbrod. 2B — K. Smith (UK), Arion (UL). 3B — Wolny (UL). HR — Soles (UL).
Kentucky — 7 p.m. Friday at South Carolina
Louisville — Noon Saturday at St. John's (doubleheader)