Kentucky pitcher Chanda Bell liked 93 of the 94 pitches she threw Saturday in the NCAA Softball Tournament super regional.
The one she didn't like was the difference.
Center fielder Frani Echavarria's solo home run off Bell in the fourth inning gave California a 1-0 victory. Bears pitcher Jolene Henderson was masterful, pitching a complete game one-hitter with four strikeouts.
Kentucky now faces elimination and needs to win twice Sunday against the Bears in order to advance to the Women's College World Series.
Bell stranded runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings, ending the first two innings with swinging strikeouts. Cal left fielder Jamia Reid was caught stealing third to end the third inning.
Lindsey Ziegenhirt struck out to lead off the fourth before Echavarria's go-ahead homer.
"(The pitch) slowed down or it didn't get the spin it needed," Bell said. "It was a high pitch so if it lacked speed, it was going to be gone."
Bell had the count at 1-2 on Echavarria before her liner cleared the fence in left center field. It was her first home run of the season and the second of the junior's career.
A school-record crowd of 1,717 at the UK Softball Complex turned out to watch the Cats (39-15) in their first-ever NCAA super regional. The weekend series sold out less than 48 hours after it was announced UK would host.
UK Coach Rachel Lawson said the Cats generally stay loose — senior catcher Megan Yocke chose "goofy" — so the high attendance didn't come with unwanted pressure to perform.
"That's how we practice, that's how we play. I think the crowd was great," Lawson said. "I think it helped us. If anything, the crowd helped us when we made mistakes and they had runners on. I think the crowd helped Chanda stay in the game and it kept pressure on their hitters. I think the crowd helped keep the score down to 1-0 and it gave us a chance to win. That was a big plus for us today."
Kentucky had its chances. Right fielder Alice O'Brien led off the top of the third with a walk (UK was considered the away team because Cal was the higher seed) and advanced to second on Emily Jolly's groundout. With two out and a runner on second, Yocke singled to left but O'Brien was held at third.
Kara Dill cracked a liner directly to third baseman Jace Williams to end the inning. O'Brien was the only Cats base runner to reach scoring position in the game.
Henderson's outing was powerful but not necessarily surprising. The sophomore, now 38-7 on the season, has given up just 34 earned runs in 3051⁄3 innings. Her command of the ball is strengthened because of her command of the circle, Lawson said.
Henderson wasted almost no time between pitches, firing back toward the plate almost as soon as the ball hit back in her glove. "Sometimes softball takes too long, so I get a little bit excited. I don't really like to wait," Henderson said.
Before Saturday, Henderson had 302 strikeouts to 2981⁄3 innings pitched, just over one strikeout per inning. She only had four against the Cats, relying instead on her defense. Ten of the first 12 batters Henderson retired went down either by groundout or flyout.
"It took our hitters a while to get used to the speed of her getting back on the mound and throwing," Lawson said. "Unless we had our timing down, it was just really difficult to get set."
Even as Henderson was dealing into the late innings, Lawson knew one swing of the bat could change everything as it did for Echavarria and the Bears in the fourth. Both Jolly and Meagan Aull hit sharp liners near the right-field warning track in the sixth inning, but Cal right fielder Elia Reid was positioned perfectly for both.
Brittany Cervantes almost found the right-center field gap with one out in the seventh, but Echavarria was playing deep enough to field it in the air.
Yocke said the Cats will head into Sunday's potential doubleheader as emotionless as possible. "We're just going to win," she said. They've come back before, she said, and all it takes is one pitch.
Just like Saturday.
"Overall, I felt pretty strong. I felt like it was a good day for me besides, obviously, that one pitch," Bell said. "It's kind of upsetting that one pitch can change the whole game. Other than that, I felt really good."