For Kentucky softball, the NCAA Tournament is a fresh start.
"Definitely," said catcher Griffin Joiner on Wednesday.
Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't. Maybe it doesn't need to be.
"I know everybody wants to stress that," said UK head coach Rachel Lawson. "But you have to learn from the regular season."
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Truth be told, the regular season was not that kind to Kentucky softball. Ranked as high as a school-record No. 5 back in February, the Cats ended up 29-24 overall and 5-19 in the SEC. They lost their last seven games, including the first-round game of the SEC Tournament in Baton Rouge last week.
Thanks to a schedule ranked second-toughest (behind Florida) in all the nation, a No. 25 RPI ranking, five victories over Top 10 teams and membership in the country's strongest softball conference, the Cats still earned their seventh straight NCAA Tournament bid.
As Lawson and Joiner were meeting with the media inside John Cropp Stadium, the bus was being loaded for the team's trip to South Bend, Ind., for a first-round game against Northwestern at 2 p.m. on Friday.
Regional host Notre Dame is rated 19th by the RPI. Northwestern is 34th. Ball State, which rounds out the four-team group, is 79th. Notre Dame is the regional's only ranked team — No. 21 in USA Today.
Kentucky is unranked for the first time after 45 consecutive polls. And while the fresh-start angle is not a bad one, it's not a good one either if the Cats didn't learn from a hard-knock season.
"I think playing such a tough schedule was good for us," Lawson said. "If we learned from everything that happened during the regular season and hopefully be better prepared for the postseason, I think we'll do a nice job."
Part of that optimism is based on the team's six excellent practices since the 5-4 loss to Tennessee last Wednesday. Lawson said she liked both the intensity and the defense in those practices.
"And the postseason is about pitching and defense," Lawson said.
"It was good to be able to slow down and focus a little bit," said Joiner, the senior captain from Christian County.
Plus, it shouldn't be forgotten why UK was ranked so highly in the preseason in the first place. This is the same team that reached the College World Series last season.
That experience helps, said Lawson, and part of the experience is learning that "it doesn't matter what you did the previous season."
Once you are in this year's tournament, does it matter what you did in the regular season? That's the question.
Does Lawson worry that the consecutive losses have taken a mental toll on her team down the stretch?
The coach references something Cropp, the retired UK administrator whom the stadium is named after, told her when she first arrived eight years ago.
"Worrying is just praying for something bad to happen," Lawson quoted Cropp, adding, "That's kind of our mindset all the time. We don't worry about it."
Nor is the team worried that unlike past years it is opening NCAA Tournament play on the road. That's just another potential negative that can be turned into a positive.
"I kind of like personally going somewhere else," Joiner said. "You have a set schedule and there are no distractions."
Starting Friday, every team is 0-0.
"We understand that we've fallen short for a lot of reasons," Lawson said. "And hopefully we've tightened them up."
"Compete," Joiner said. "That's the one word I would say."
That's a good place to start.