COLUMBUS, Ohio – After coming up with two clutch victories to advance to the Championship game of its first Regional in school history, the Kentucky softball team suffered a heart-wrenching 7-2 loss to the No. 11 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday afternoon.
Kentucky (34-23) could not come up with enough offensive fire power to match that of Ohio State who plated all seven of its runs on home runs. Junior Molly Johnson paced the squad with a 3-for-3 day, all singles, in the loss.
Playing in its first NCAA Tournament in school history, Kentucky charted two wins yesterday over Canisius and BYU to advance to today’s Championship series. Despite the heartbreaking loss, Kentucky will return all but one player to next season’s squad.
“It’s been a good season for us, we’ve had a lot of firsts,” said Head Coach Rachel Lawson. “I’m very proud of this team and very proud of their run in post-season play. I don’t think prior to this season we understood how good we could be. We didn’t understand what it would take to make it through an entire season. For our program this run means a ton, because now they know they can compete at this level and more importantly come back from adversity.”
Ohio State, playing as the designated visitor’s, opened up to an early 1-0 lead off of a solo home run from Vanessa Spears in the top of the first inning.
Johnson started the home half of the inning with a single into left field. Johnson attempted to swipe second, but was thrown out for just the fourth time this season. UK then dropped in order ending the inning.
The Buckeyes added a run to their lead in the top of the second frame. Ohio State led off with back-to-back singles and then Dee Dee Hillman brought in a run from second with a double into left-center for a 2-0 advantage.
In a wild second inning Kentucky was able to plate a pair of runs and tie the score at two apiece. Freshman Brittany Cervantes opened the inning by reaching when OSU’s shortstop bobbled the ball. Sophomore Meagan Aull laid down a masterful bunt and the speedy runner was also able to reach base on the plate putting two runners on base with no outs. Sophomore Samantha DeMartine shifted both runners into scoring position with a perfectly played bunt along the first base line. Freshman Rachel Riley brought Cervantes home with a single through the right side for the first score. In the ensuing at-bat Kentucky attempted a squeeze but sophomore Annie Rowlands missed the bunt and Aull got caught in the base baths. Aull was ruled out on a runner’s interference igniting the Buckeye crowd. Rowlands then redeemed herself with a pop-fly into shallow right-field and the two OSU defenders crashed into each other as the ball dribbled out of the second baseman’s glove. Heady base running by pinch runner Jennifer Young saw her round home on the miscue allowing the Blue and White to tie the score through two innings.
Riley entered the game in the third in relief of starter Bell. The freshman gave up a one-out double, but then sat the next two batters down in order not allowing any further damage.
Johnson opened the top of the third with a single through the center of the infield to put the leadoff runner on base. However, Ohio State once again gunned her down in her steal attempt for the second time in the contest. UK suffered consecutive groundouts to end the inning.
The Blue and White retired the side in the top of the fourth behind three consecutive groundouts in the infield.
Cervantes led off the bottom of the fourth by earning a base when she was drilled by a pitch. Aull moved her ahead a bag on a masterful display of small-ball. After a pop-up for out number two, the inning ended on a great snag by OSU’s third baseman. Riley sent a ball drove a ball into the ground and the chopper looked like it might skip over her head, but Rebecca Schultz was able to snag it out of the air and get the out.
Ohio State pulled away with a three-run fifth inning. The Buckeyes smacked two home runs in the frame to take a 5-2 lead.
With two outs on the scoreboard Johnson recorded her third hit of the afternoon when she dropped one into shallow left field to place a runner on base in the home half of the fifth. Smith drilled a ball back at the pitcher, but Kim Reeder was able to make a crafty play for a pitcher and end the inning by beating Smith out with the throw at first.
In the top of the sixth, Riley and the UK defense was back in top form. The right-hander forced three consecutive grounders right to Johnson at shortstop.
After suffering opening outs including a roped lineout by Cervantes into deep centerfield, Aull charted a single into right field with a ball that laced the right-field stripe. However, UK would not be able to move the runners as the inning ended on the next at-bat.
Ohio State added to its lead with the fourth home run of the game in the top of the seventh. After Hillman reached on an error the Buckeyes drove in two more runs on the round tripper making the final margin of 7-2.
The Kentucky Wildcats enjoyed easily the best season in school history. Lawson led the team to its first-ever NCAA Tournament and the team responded with two wins—both clutch victories after losing in the opening game. Additionally, UK finished sixth in the always-strong SEC and charted an upset victory over No. 7 Georgia in that tournament. The Blue and White posted the second-most victories in school allure with 34 on the season—including 13 in the SEC. Those wins are even more impressive when one takes into account that the Wildcats faced one of the top-five toughest schedules in the nation. Johnson and Yocke were tabbed All-Region honorees, with Johnson also taking home All-SEC First team awards.
In UK’s final at-bat, the Wildcats suffered three straight groundouts to end the inning as Ohio State’s shortstop made two spectacular plays to get the Blue and White out in order.
Today’s loss concludes the season for the Wildcats. They return all but one player from the NCAA participant squad as senior Katie McCarty is the only senior on the team.