LEXINGTON — Coach Rachel Lawson’s Kentucky Wildcats hope the pitching of sophomore Kelsey Nunley and proven experience throughout the lineup can get them over a postseason hump and into softball’s College World Series.
The first step toward that goal comes this weekend as Kentucky hosts an NCAA regional for the second straight season.
The 44-15 Wildcats, ranked No. 15 nationally, open the double elimination regional against the Ohio Bobcats (32-24) Friday at 7:30 at John Cropp Stadium, following the James Madison (44-13) and DePaul (41-9) game at 5.
Friday’s winners clash Saturday at 1, with losers’ bracket games Saturday at 3:30 and 6.
The championship game is set for Sunday at 1, with a second game, if necessary, at 3:30.
The winner of this region advances to face the winner of the Los Angeles region next week in a best-of-three super regional, with that survivor going on to Oklahoma City for the World Series, May 29-June 4.
Lawson’s Wildcats have been down this path, having won regional titles in two of the past three years, only to lose in super regional play each time.
She said the pitching of Nunley, 24-7, and an outstanding track record in close games can spell the difference this time.
Kentucky is coming off a terrific run in last week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament, winning three tight games on the way to a 5-2 title tilt loss to second-ranked Georgia.
“I think our team is really playing well right now,” Lawson said. “The fact that we were able to go into the SEC Tournament and win three games against three great opponents, on a national stage (on ESPN2), really says we’re ready.”
Junior catcher Griffin Joiner and sophomore infielder Christian Stokes have been catalysts offensively of late, while the steady pitching of Nunley has been an anchor all season.
“Kelsey has been outstanding,” Lawson said of Nunley. “She has won over 50 games in two years, and that says a lot about how tough she is. She has great command. She knows where she wants to put the ball, and most of the time she does it. Plus, she doesn’t back down from anybody.”
Lawson also has confidence knowing that her team can win the kind of close games found at tournament time. Kentucky is 9-0 in extra inning games this season.
“That says a lot,” Lawson said. “No. 1, it shows we have great pitching, and then we also have a great ability to focus. Plus, they’re in great shape. They don’t break down in later innings like some people do.”
“When we need to get it done, we get it done, and that’s big in the post-season,” Stokes said.
Nunley said she believes these Wildcats are better than last season’s regional champion.
“I think we make better adjustments as the game goes on, and we work harder in practice,” Nunley said.