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Softball Cats have history on their minds

UK's Meagan Aull rounded the bases during a win over Auburn this month.
NCAA Super Regional
3-game series: California at Kentucky
Saturday: Noon (ESPNU, WLAP-AM 630)
UK's Meagan Aull rounded the bases during a win over Auburn this month. NCAA Super Regional 3-game series: California at Kentucky Saturday: Noon (ESPNU, WLAP-AM 630)

Since she was a little girl growing up in Owensboro, Meagan Aull has bled blue.

When the Kentucky men's basketball team lost in the NCAA Tournament championship game in 1997, Aull "cried and cried."

When the team won its two national titles in 1996 and 1998, Aull was glued to the television screen.

"When I was little we always had the national championship party at our house," she explained.

And now the former standout at Owensboro Catholic is just a few games away from possibly leading Kentucky softball to its own national championship.

The Cats are a home weekend series with seventh-seeded California from advancing to the program's first-ever College World Series.

The starters on the roster from the Bluegrass state like Aull, pitcher Rachel Riley and infielder Emily Jolly, try to downplay it, but it means something special to them to have "Kentucky" written across their chests.

"It's an amazing feeling to represent this state," said Riley, a former standout at Greenwood. "It's really cool to be a part of it."

Aull, who hit the game-tying home run in an upset win at Michigan last weekend, said it's been great to start a softball tradition at UK.

"Starting out as a freshman, we weren't the hottest team," she said. "We really have risen and made history here at UK.

"To see this program rise is something special to me and to the seniors and the coaches. To see this program make history is something special."

Aull's love for Kentucky is contagious, even to a Hoosier like pitcher Chanda Bell.

"Seeing Rachel and Meagan Aull, they bleed blue no matter what," she said. "They have such an enthusiasm and love for their state. Some of us who aren't from Kentucky, we've got that too now. The players from this state fuel it for us."

Coach Rachel Lawson said all 21 players on the roster are enjoying the ride.

"Even the people who are far from home, I can see a look in their eyes," she said. "They performed great and it means just as much to them as it would someone from Kentucky."

Since the start of the season, UK players both from Kentucky and afar have set a goal of winning a regional.

Now that they've accomplished that, the goals have gotten even loftier.

"We're really focused on trying to shock a lot of people this year," senior Annie Rowlands said. "We all believed we could do it all year long. A lot of people doubted us from the beginning, but we knew we could."

Bell agreed.

"Once we meet a goal, we keep going for the next one," she said. "We're never going to stop. We want to go all the way."

To do that, the Cats (39-14) have to go through the tradition-rich Bears (42-10), who secured their 12th region title in the past 13 seasons at Louisville last weekend.

California is led by ace Jolene Henderson, who has a .080 ERA and 302 strikeouts this season.

Offensively, the Golden Bears are led by Britt Vonk and Jamia Reid's .419 averages. The two have combined to swipe 50 of Cal's 92 stolen bases this season.

UK's players have impressive numbers of their own, batting .300 as a team with 307 runs scored.

And even though they're playing in their old (and adopted) Kentucky home this weekend, the Cats don't think the heat is on them.

"The pressure is on the seeded teams right now," Bell said. "We're not feeling pressure right now, we're feeling the excitement."

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