LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky is going to the Super Regionals for just the seventh time in school history.
The Wildcats punched their ticket to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with an 11-1 win over Virginia Tech in six innings Sunday at Joe Cropp Field. Kentucky (36-22) will face the winner of the Seattle Regional between Mississippi State and No. 3 seed Washington.
The Wildcats have swept three consecutive regional series matchups and outscored Toldeo and Virginia Tech 26-4 during the three-day event. Kentucky belted out 13 hits against the Hokies, with junior second baseman Alex Martens paving the way with three hits and four plate appearances. Martens also drove in five runs to pace the Wildcats’ offense.
“I am a junior and we have hosted now each of the last three years and that is just an honor in itself in being a national seed and hosting and then setting and realizing your goals and going to Supers,” Martens said. “It definitely is one pitch at a time because we are mature and know what it takes. That is what really helps too is our maturing as players and as women.”
Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said the Wildcats are starting to become known as an offensive team in addition to pitching and defense.
“One of the things that I love about this class is, prior to this class we were known solely for our defense and for our pitching,” Lawson said. “We were that scrappy team, and I still want to be that team. I want to be that team that’s scrappy and plays defense and has hard-nosed pitchers and just tough people. That’s what Kentucky – the state of Kentucky – is all about. We’re blue-collared people and that’s who we recruit and that’s who we are. But, this offensive group, what I love about them is when we built that amazing indoor (facility).”
Martens delivered a two-out double that scored two runs in the top of the third inning that gave the Wildcats a 3-0 lead. Jenny Schaper collected two hits, including a solo home run in the top of the third. Martens added to her impressive day with a three-run home run in the top of the sixth frame. Martens set the school RBI record and has 66 on the season.
“I recruited Alex because she has the ‘it’ factor,” Lawson said. “I don’t know what makes Alex tick; I just know that she ticks at a very high level. She’s somebody who — Alex gets yelled at a lot by me because she can take it and because I know she can be that great. And so for me, I’m just happy that she’s realizing her potential because she’s always had that potential.
The Wildcats broke the game open with five runs in the fifth inning. Lauren Johnson had a single that scored a pair of runs to highlight the inning.
Martens, Schaper, Katie Reed, Abbey Cheek had multi-hits in the game, with Cheek and Martens collecting three hits apiece.
“There is so much (confidence) right now especially with having Jenny (Schaper) and Katie (Reed) and me — our three seniors — and we have been through the regionals and supers for three years now and I think just being mature and having us at the top really helps the middle of the lineup and the bottom of the lineup know that if we are doing good they are going to be confident in the box if we are confident,” Cheek said. “It is just really important to have three seniors at the top of that lineup.”
Junior pitcher Autumn Humes went the distance in the pitcher’s circle. Humes allowed just one run and surrendered five hits. She struck out five batters and walked just one. Humes (15-10) led the Wildcats to a 7-2 win over Toledo in the tournament opener.
“One thing that I am really focused on especially in the last few weeks with our offense being on fire, is if the other team like today gets a big hit or a home run, I just have to forget it,” she said. “Honestly, people are like, ‘What are you thinking when people hit a home run?’ and now days I am just trying to forget it and move on to the next pitch. I think that is one thing that has been a part of my recent success is just stay in the moment and focus on each pitch one at a time.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.