LEXINGTON, Ky. – For an unprecedented fourth consecutive season the Kentucky softball team has been selected as an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament it was announced on Sunday night. Kentucky will head to the Louisville, Ky., Regional and matchup with Michigan in the opening game of the tournament.
“My first thought is that I’m excited we are in the tournament,” UK coach Rachel Lawson said. “We have an opportunity to win and go on. Any chance that you have to extend your season is a good day.
“Louisville is somebody who we are familiar with which is a good thing, but because it is so close to us we are hoping for a good fan base,” Lawson said. “We always have a good turnout and the Big Blue Nation is great, and I’m hoping that plays into our favor.”
The Wildcats are among the Louisville Regional which features the host Cardinals who obtained the No. 15 overall seed in the tournament. Michigan and Valparaiso join the four-team bracket.
Every game from Louisville will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, marking the second consecutive season the Wildcats have been selected for a nationally televised broadcast in the opening rounds of the tournament.
The Wildcats are one of nine Southeastern Conference teams to earn a bid into the tournament matching a conference record which was set in 2009, coincidentally the first time the Wildcats earned a bid.
Kentucky owns a 28-27 overall record and has played both Louisville and Michigan this season. The Cardinals claimed both meetings in the annual home-and-home series between the instate rivals. UK and the Wolverines met during the second weekend of play with the then ranked No. 11 Wolverines earning a 3-0 win. The matchup with Michigan before a nationally televised audience is a rematch between the Regional from a season ago when the Wildcats prevailed en route to earning a spot in the Super Regionals for the first time in school history.
Kentucky and Valparaiso have met twice in school history with both meetings coming during UK’s inaugural season of softball in 1997 with both squads earning one win.
Louisville is the national No. 15 seed with a tournament-best 50-3 record. Kristin Austin headlines the offensive effort with a blistering .401 clip and 19 extra base hits including eight triples. Tori Collins paces a three-player pitching rotation that has all yielded just one loss each. Collins is 23-1 with a squad-best 1.25 ERA.
Michigan (39-15) claimed its fifth consecutive Big 10 title to earn the conference’s automatic bid into the tournament. Amanda Chidester leads the bats with a .354 average and nine homers. Haylie Wagner is the ace of the staff with a 29-5 overall record and a 1.55 ERA.
Valparaiso gained entry by way of capturing the Horizon League and it marks the Crusaders’ first-ever bid into the NCAA Tournament in school history. The Crusaders own a 42-17 overall record and are led by a .428 batting average and 14 home runs from Jordan Rutkowski. In the circle, Alex Lagesse has charted a 1.98 ERA to couple with a 22-9 record on the year.
The regional is a double-elimination format, with the winner advancing to a Super Regional against the winner of the Tuscaloosa Regional, which includes No. 2 seed Alabama, Georgia Tech, Tennessee-Martin and South Alabama. The Super Regional, slated for May 24-27, is a best two-of-three format with the winner advancing to the eight-team Women's College World Series, scheduled for May 31-June 6 in Oklahoma City, Okla.