After ringing up its second consecutive 30-win season the Kentucky softball team was once again selected as an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament it was announced Sunday night on a live telecast by ESPNU.
Kentucky (31-25) will head north to a familiar site for its historical second straight run at the NCAA title. The Wildcats were picked to play in the Columbus, Ohio, regional – the same site as last year’s first trip to the national tournament. UK will meet the host Buckeyes in the opening round matchup on Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Joining UK and Ohio State is the tournament’s No. 13 overall seed in California along with the Patriot League automatic qualifier in Bucknell.
The team gathered Sunday night with coaches, administrators, family, friends and members of the Kentucky athletic staff to learn its fate.
“Earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament speaks to the continuity of the program and proves that we are mentally tough,” UK coach Rachel Lawson said. “When you do something for the first time there’s always an excitement level, so in year two you never know how the team will react to it. We’ve kept going where we left off from a year ago and we’re just really excited to head back up to Columbus to get another opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
UK will compete in a double-elimination format among the Columbus Regional for a chance for a Super Regional Bid.
Kentucky’s first matchup is with the host Ohio State Buckeyes who earned an at-large bid and were selected as a host site for the second consecutive season. Ohio State owns a 37-12 overall record and has wins over six top-25 ranked opponents. Perhaps their biggest win of the season came over then ranked No. 3 UCLA by a 7-0 margin back in February.
Ohio State is paced offensively by Alicia Herron who is batting .421 and has a team-best 10 stolen bases on the season. Sam Marder has knocked a team-high 17 home runs this season while driving in 43 runs. For the season, the Buckeyes have collectively hit 53 long balls and own a team batting average of .305.
In the circle, Melanie Nichols is 21-2 on the season with a 1.83 earned run average. She has also struck out 129 batters on the season. As a pitching staff the Buckeyes possess a 2.28 team ERA and have struck out 237 on the year.
California was an early-season opponent of the Blue and White in the season-opening tournament hosted by Arizona State in February. The Bears got the better of the Wildcats in that match-up by a 6-1 score. In that game Cal scored six runs on eight hits, while limiting UK to just five hits in the game.
Cal capped the regular season with a 41-17 overall record and is making its 25th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Jamia Reid paces the offense with a .383 batting average and 45 stolen bases. Valerie Arioto is hitting at a .349 clip with 16 home runs and 53 runs driven in.
Arioto also leads the pitching staff with a squad-best 1.31 ERA and a 20-8 overall record. She has tossed 253 strikeouts on the year to add to her resume.
The final team in the Columbus Regional is the Patriot League champion in Bucknell. The Bison are making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history owning a 28-18-1 overall record on the season.
Bucknell is led by Lauren Fry’s .404 average at the dish. Alex MacLean has turned in a 13-5 record in the circle with a 2.38 ERA and 90 strikeouts.
The Wildcats are one of 64 teams who will be competing at 16 regional sites in the first round double-elimination Regionals. The top 16 teams were seeded in order, and the remaining teams were placed in regional brackets to create balanced competition and avoid conference match-ups, when possible. The regional winners will advance to super regional competition for a best-of-three series at eight campus sites.
The eight teams that win the Super Regionals will advance to the WCWS, an eight-team, double-elimination tournament. The championship final will be a best-of-three-series. The WCWS will be conducted May 28 to June 3 at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
The Southeastern Conference had seven teams selected to the national tournament with Alabama earning the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. It marks the third consecutive season a squad from the SEC has earned the top seed in the tournament. Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn were the other teams selected from the SEC.
Tickets to the NCAA Tournament Regional in Columbus, Ohio, are set for 10 dollars for adults and five dollars for students.
Stay tuned to UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information about the Wildcats at the NCAA Tournament.