Photo slideshow: Kentucky softball clinches NCAA Lexington Regional
The University of Kentucky softball team is headed to the Pacific Northwest for the third year in a row, hoping that a slight change in scenery leads to a different outcome.
The Wildcats will visit the University of Washington for a best-of-three NCAA Tournament super-regional series this weekend, with the winner advancing to the Women’s College World Series.
The past two years, Kentucky was eliminated in the super-regional round by Oregon. The Cats won the opening game last year in Eugene before dropping the final two contests The previous season at Oregon, the Cats were swept in two games.
Kentucky is seeking its first trip to the Women’s College World Series since 2014.
The University of Washington, based in Seattle, presents a new opponent in a different location for this year’s super-regional round — but no less of a challenge.
The Huskies finished the regular season as co-champions of the Pacific-12 Conference with UCLA. The Pac-12 leads all conferences with 23 NCAA championships, including one by Washington in 2009.
Washington (48-7 overall, 20-4 Pac-12) entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 3 overall seed and swept to victory in the Seattle Regional by defeating Fordham 2-0, and then Mississippi State 6-1 and 8-0.
The Huskies’ victories last weekend over Mississippi State pushed their record to 7-1 against Southeastern Conference opponents in 2019. One of those wins came over Kentucky, 4-2, in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic on Feb. 22 at Palm Springs, Calif. Also during the regular season, Washington beat Mississippi State, Arkansas, Missouri and Auburn and lost to Florida.
The only previous meetings between UK and Washington also took place in the regular season – a 3-2 UK win in 2013 at San Diego and a 6-1 UK win in 2006 at Las Vegas. This weekend’s games will be Kentucky’s first ever against the Huskies in Seattle.
Kentucky (36-22 overall, 14-10 SEC) entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 14 overall seed and rolled easily into the super-regional round by defeating Toledo 7-2 and then Virginia Tech 8-1 and 11-1 last weekend.
The Wildcats, ranked 11th in the nation in runs per game at 6.49, will need to call on all of their scoring prowess in Seattle.
Washington’s pitching staff boasts the nation’s fifth-lowest earned-run average at 1.51. The Huskies have given up only 95 runs in 55 games, led by 6-foot Australian sophomore Gabbie Plain (21-2, 1.21 ERA) and senior Taran Alvelo (25-4, 1.58).
Plain threw her third no-hitter of the season in Washington’s regional-clinching win over Mississippi State late Sunday night, leading the Huskies to the super-regional round for the fourth year in a row and extending her scoreless streak to 28 2/3 innings. She also blanked Fordham in the regional opener.
Offensively, Washington ranks 35th nationally with 5.50 runs per game. Kentucky counters with a pitching staff rated 89th in the nation with a 3.11 ERA.
Kentucky is one of six SEC teams to advance to this year’s super-regional round, joining Alabama, Florida, LSU, Mississippi and Tennessee. Washington is joined by fellow Pac-12 schools Arizona and UCLA.
The remaining 16 teams also include Florida State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and James Madison.
No. 14 seed Kentucky at No. 3 seed Washington
What: NCAA Tournament super regional
Where: Husky Softball Stadium in Seattle
When: 9 p.m. EDT Friday, 10 p.m. Saturday, 10 p.m. Sunday (if necessary)
Records: Kentucky 36-22, Washington 48-7
Format: Best-of-three series
At stake: Series winner advances to Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City May 30-June 5