NCAA Softball Tournament Preview: Lexington Regional

Wynn McDonald4 months


Aritcle written by:Wynn McDonaldWynn McDonald


softball bracket
<small>The bracket for the 2021 Lexington Regional, via @UKSoftball<small>
NCAA Tournament softball is coming to Lexington once again. For the fifth straight tournament, UK softball is hosting an NCAA regional bubble, starting Friday at John Cropp Stadium. The four teams participating are Kentucky, the 14-seed in the bracket, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Miami (OH). They're set to square off this weekend in a double-elimination format, with the winner advancing to play the winner of the Tuscaloosa Regional in next weekend's Super Regional round. Not counting last year's canceled tournament, it's the fifth year in a row that UK has hosted regional games, with the 'Cats advancing to the supers in each of the last four. Kentucky will get things started early with a 12 p.m. first pitch against Northwestern tomorrow afternoon on ESPN2. Autumn Humes is expected to start in the circle after leading UK with a 20-7 record, 26 starts and 139 strikeouts this season, with an impressive 2.93 ERA. Northwestern will trot out junior Danielle Williams, whose 176 Ks this year rank in the top 40 nationally. The second game of the day between Notre Dame and Miami is scheduled for 2:30, streaming on ESPN3. The winners of each game will face off at noon on Saturday, while the losers fight it out in the elimination bracket. The regional final will be held at noon on Friday, with a second game to decide the winner to be played at 2:30 if necessary. UK is seeking its first chance to host a Super Regional, though for that to happen, they would need a little luck. In addition to winning this weekend, the 'Cats would have to hope that no. 3 seed Alabama, who knocked them out of the SEC Tournament last week, gets knocked out early. Despite qualifying for the last four Super Regional matchups, Kentucky hasn't won one since 2014, when they knocked out UCLA en route to the first College World Series appearance in program history. Here's a quick look at the teams standing in the way of that goal this weekend:

Northwestern (29-15, 29-15 conf.)

The Wildcats of the Big 10 didn't play a non-conference schedule this season due to the delayed start, but made up for it with a strong regular season, finishing third in the conference behind Michigan and Minnesota. They're led by Williams and junior OF Skyler Shellmyer, who led the team with a .362 average this year. The team's primary power threats are seniors Rachel Lewis and Morgan Newport, who combined to hit 17 home runs. They're making their third straight NCAA appearance with coach Kate Drohan, though they haven't been to a Super Regional since 2008.

Notre Dame (31-13, 20-10 conf.)

The Fighting Irish finished fifth in ACC play this year, but ended the season on a 10-game winning streak before bowing out to Virginia Tech in the conference tournament. Offensively, they've been led by two sweet-swinging outfielders in Emma Clark and Abby Sweet, who hit .406 and .463 respectively, with the latter ranking 12th in the country. Their best pitcher is Payton Tidd, a senior who went 15-5 with a 2.16 ERA. Led by coach Deanna Gumpf, the Irish are making their 22nd consecutive tournament appearance.

Miami of Ohio (46-8, 36-2 conf.)

The winningest team in the NCAA field, Miami utterly dominated the Mid-American Conference this season. They've also won their last 11 games, led by junior infielder Allie Cummins, who hit .441 with a 1.460 OPS and 16 home runs this year. They also got a spectacular season from Freshman of the Year candidate Karli Spaid, who hit .416 and blasted 17 bombs. UK can expect to see star pitcher Courtney Vierstra as well, as she enters play this weekend with a dominant 26-3 record, .159 ERA and .155 opponent batting average. It was easily the best season in program history for the Redhawks, who are making their first NCAA appearance since 2016 behind coach Kirin Kumar. For those interested, single-game tickets for the weekend's games are still available through UK. You might want to hurry though because they're going fast with limited capacity measures still in effect. Go Cats, and let's make some noise!

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