Herd softball making history
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall's softball team will make history when they step out onto the field at 7:30 p.m. on Friday evening at John Cropp Stadium to take on No. 12 Kentucky in the Herd's first-ever trip to the NCAA Regional.
They've already made history by winning the Conference USA championship and advancing to the NCAAs -- both program firsts -- and they plan on making more history this weekend.
Friday's game will be televised on ESPN3, which is a web-channel accessible online.
"Going into regionals, it's not 'Oh, thankfully we've made our first regional,'" Marshall coach Shonda Stanton said. "We expect to win it."
The Herd's first contest in the NCAAs takes place at a championship-style facility, but it's one that the Herd is familiar with.
Marshall (35-20) and Kentucky matched up on April 9 with the Wildcats earning a 4-3 win over the Herd.
In the game, Marshall led 3-1 heading into the final stanza before a wild final half-inning in which Herd pitcher Andi Williamson was hit in the back of the head by catcher Katalin Lucas as Lucas tried to throw out a runner stealing second base.
Williamson stayed in the contest, but was ineffective as the Wildcats put three runs on the board to earn the comeback victory. She was later diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms and missed the Herd's next five games.
Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson said Williamson's injury played a role in the comeback the Wildcats had earlier in the season.
"That definitely contributed to that game," Lawson said. "We had done that (rallied back) several games before, so that's something we do But there's no doubt that kind of contributed to something."
It's a game that Marshall players certainly remember as well.
When the announcement was made that Kentucky (38-18) was the opponent, the entire Hartley Room erupted and players immediately began buzzing about getting another shot at the Wildcats.
"We had that game won," Marshall center-fielder Ashley Gue said. "We literally just blew it in that last inning. This could not have happened more perfectly for us and there's no one we'd rather play than Kentucky because we know that we can beat Kentucky if we play our game."
For the Herd to beat Kentucky, senior pitcher Andi Williamson will have to be on top of her game -- something she has been throughout the postseason.
In the three postseason starts thus far, Williamson has yet to allow an earned run. She has given up just 15 hits in 21 innings of work.
On the season, Williamson is 32-16 with a 2.01 earned run average. She is second nationally in strikeouts with 344 and third in wins (32).
The Kentucky hitters remember her well, and she has their respect.
"She's a competitor," Kentucky catcher Griffin Joiner said. "She was really going after us. We like that."
Kentucky pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbees agreed with Joiner, calling Williamson "a gamer."
While Williamson is key, the Herd will also have to excel as a team, which means playing to strength and shoring up its weaknesses.
Kaelynn Greene and Gue are a pair of speedsters at the top of the lineup who utilize their skill to get on base and move into scoring position for the middle of the lineup. Marshall is second in the NCAA in steals per game (2.24) with Gue having 33 steals in 38 attempts and Greene right behind with 31 steals in 36 attempts.
While speed and offense is a strength, the Herd defense will need to make the routine plays -- something which has been a challenge at times this season.
Marshall has committed 103 errors in 55 games, which ranks them 268 out of 289 teams nationally. All five runs scored against the Herd in the Conference USA tournament were unearned.
Prior to the matchup between the Herd and Kentucky, Notre Dame will meet Virginia Tech in a 5 p.m. contest. The two represent the other teams that make up the Lexington regional.
The winners of Friday's games will meet at 1 p.m. on Saturday with the victor advancing to the regional championship game.
The losers of Friday's games meet in an elimination matchup at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and the winner returns to the field immediately at 6 p.m. to take on the loser of Saturday's 1 p.m. matchup for the right to advance to the championship.
Sunday's championship is yet to be determined and a second game will be played immediately following, if necessary.
Lexington Herald-Leader writer Jerry Tipton contributed to this story.
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