It’s not football or basketball season. It’s not time for the cheerleading national championships. It’s not even NBA Draft day or National Signing day for college football players. And yet, despite all this, the University of Kentucky Athletics Department in the form of the Women’s Softball team is making history. For the first time ever, the ladies will be making a trip to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS).
In just seven seasons, Coach Rachel Lawson has built the Women’s Softball program from one of mediocrity to one of the top programs in the country. During her tenure, the Cats have notched 54 victories over ranked teams, with 15 of those being over top 5 teams. Little by little, the pieces began to fall in place and the Cats improved to not only making the NCAAs each season, but advancing to the Super Regionals for three consecutive years.
“This is a special day for us,” Lawson said. “We’re going into a place that we’ve never been before, I feel really excited. It’s a dream come true for all the girls on our team and our staff, we’ve worked incredibly hard. This particular senior class, this is our third Super Regional, so we’ve been close enough to taste it, but for it to actually be a reality is very special.”
These Cats have shown they have a lot of fight in them. They made an improbably march through the SEC Tournament filled with Women’s College Softball heavyweights, beating Mississippi State, Tennessee and LSU on consecutive days. They met up with a very tough Georgia Bulldogs squad and fell 5-2 in the Championship game. This letdown did not carry over to the NCAA Regionals, however as the Cats defeated Ohio and James Madison one day before splitting a double-header against Depaul and advancing on to the Super Regionals.
A three-game series with the #3 ranked UCLA Bruins faced the Cats. After jumping to an early lead in game one, a late-game grand slam by UCLA gave them the victory and had the Cats on the ropes. Game two on Sunday was won by the Cats in strong fashion, posting a 7-3 win and forcing the decisive game three. Already enjoying their most successful season in program history (49-17), the Cats needed to clear this final hurdle of surviving the Super Regionals and finally advancing to the World Series.
Kelsey Nunley was without question the key to this goal. Having thrown every single pitch in the NCAA Tournament thus far, the ball was still placed in her hands for the second session on Sunday. Rather than showing signs of tiring, Nunley actually seemed to get stronger with each pitch in each inning. By the time Sunday’s play had concluded, Nunley had thrown 14 innings, given up 11 hits, 4 runs (all earned) and notched 5 strike outs as the Cats prevailed 7-1. It was an incredible performance by the pitcher enjoying her best season ever (29-9). She now holds a 5-2 record in the 2014 NCAAs with a very impressive .087 earned run average. For the Cats to succeed in the WCWS, Nunley will need to maintain her level of consistency and dominance.
The WCWS will begin Thursday at noon, with the Cats playing their opening game at 7:00 pm versus Louisiana Lafayette in the double-elimination format. ESPN2 will be televising the Cats’ game. If you haven’t watched these ladies play yet, set aside some time Thursday to see them play. As long as you’re passing time waiting for basketball and football seasons to return, you might as well support some of the other successful UK teams. I admit I have not been an avid fan of the softball team before this year, but the more I see them play, the more I love to watch them. These ladies are good and they have already made history. Let’s get behind them and hopefully watch them make even more.
Follow the Softball Cats on Twitter @UKSoftball