LEXINGTON, Ky. — It’s been more than three months since Kentucky and Oregon faced each other at the beginning of the season, but Kentucky senior pitcher Meagan Prince remembers what went wrong against the Ducks.
The Wildcats led 4-1 heading into the sixth inning, but Oregon scored 3 runs in the top of the frame. Freshman pinch-hitter Shannon Rhodes singled in a run with the bases loaded, but the other two runners scored on a pair of Kentucky errors. Oregon blasted a solo shot in the seventh inning to take the 5-4 win.
“That first time we played them we kind of lost on a technicality, an error,” Prince said. “I think coming back now we’ll be a lot sharper. We’ve had time to play with each other.”
Kentucky and Oregon will face off Friday to start their Super Regionals series at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene. Oregon, the No. 3 seed, swept its regional with a win against Illinois-Chicago and two wins against Wisconsin. Kentucky, the No. 14 seed, beat DePaul once and Illinois twice to advance.
“Quite honestly I think they were pumped to get through regionals, but their goal is to get to the World Series,” Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said. “I think that’s why they picked Kentucky.”
It’s the fifth Super Regionals appearance for Kentucky and the program’s fourth appearance in the last five years. Lawson, the all-time winningest coach in program history, has led Kentucky to nine NCAA Tournaments and one Women’s College World Series berth. UK didn’t have an NCAA Tournament appearance in the 11 years before Lawson.
“For you to be a mainstay in regionals, and a mainstay in Super Regionals, and the fact that we’ve gotten a national seed in the last two years, that shows you the program continues to climb and climb,” Lawson said. “For a state like Kentucky, we don’t have a very big population, we’re not necessarily in the best weather although it’s an OK climate — for a state to be able to do that consistently talks about the efforts that are being put in the softball program.”
But despite the success, Lawson said more than half of her team hasn’t played in a Super Regional game.
Kentucky will be led in the circle by Prince. The left-hander threw 14 1/3 innings in the Lexington Regional, allowing just 1 unearned run. She started Kentucky’s first two regional games and pitched the final inning and a third in relief to secure the second win against Illinois.
Prince is 22-14 on the season with a sub-2 ERA.
“She’s always into it, but there’s an extra gear that she has when she’s playing a formidable opponent on the big stage,” Lawson said. “She’s always been that way.”
Prince was asked why she thrives in pressure-packed situations.
“Maybe it’s just luck,” she said with a a laugh.
“I think I strive on competition,” she then added. “That’s why I like to pitch — I love the 1-on-1 competition between me and the batter. When you’re in that big moment the competition gets hyped up a lot more.”
The next big moment comes Friday.