Kentucky softball season ends with NCAA Tournament regional loss to Virginia Tech

·4 min read
Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com

For the first time since 2016, Kentucky softball will not reach a super regional.

Despite having a pair of opportunities on Sunday to advance out of the Blacksburg Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky came up short in its quest to reach a super regional for the fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky and No. 3 overall seed and host school Virginia Tech were the last two teams remaining in the Blacksburg Regional, which also featured Miami (Ohio) and St. Francis (Pa.).

UK went into Sunday, the final day of regional play, with a 2-0 record after a win over Miami (Ohio) and a dramatic comeback victory over Virginia Tech.

But Kentucky lost both of its potential “win and advance” games against Virginia Tech as the Hokies moved on to face Florida in the super regional.

Kentucky closes the season with a 38-19 overall record.

Blacksburg Regional recap

In its tournament-opening win — a 15-1 run-rule win over Miami (Ohio) in five innings on Friday — UK hit an NCAA Tournament and school record-tying six home runs.

Erin Coffel and Taylor Ebbs each hit two home runs, and Kayla Kowalik and Renee Abernathy also recorded long balls as UK moved into the winner’s bracket with the win.

“What can (you) say about our offense? Our offense was just really good today,” Lawson said after the game. “We had several people that were really just seeing the ball well and hitting it.”

On Saturday, Kentucky won again with a dramatic 5-4 comeback over Virginia Tech.

After a weather delay pushed the start of Saturday’s game back nearly two hours, Kentucky fell behind 4-0 in the first inning.

But the Cats were kept in the game by a remarkable relief pitching effort from freshman Alexia Lacatena, who pitched six shutout innings while only allowing two hits.

“I have so much faith and trust in this team. It doesn’t matter who, (in) our entire lineup someone can make something happen,” Lacatena said postgame.

Kentucky scored five runs in the final two innings of the game, including a three-run home run by Renee Abernathy with UK down to its final two outs that pushed Kentucky in front.

“We’re never out of the fight. We know that. I was just trying to put the ball in play hard,” Abernathy said postgame. “My head was pretty empty too, beforehand. I just try to keep it simple, hit it hard, trust my preparation.”

The Hokies needed to beat the Wildcats twice on Sunday to advance out of the regional and they succeeded.

Sunday’s first game saw Virginia Tech score eight unanswered runs to end the game with a 9-2 win, which made a “winner-takes-all” game necessary to determine which team would advance.

After a lightning delay in between games that lasted about an hour, the deciding game started with a spark from UK as Kowalik and Coffel each hit solo home runs in the first inning to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.

Virginia Tech responded with a two-run home run in its half of the opening inning to tie the game.

Virginia Tech head coach Pete D’Amour was ejected from the game during the second inning for arguing illegal pitches called against his team.

UK then took the lead again, 3-2, on an RBI double by Coffel, but that advantage wouldn’t last.

A three-run home run by Virginia Tech’s Mackenzie Lawter in the fifth inning gave the host school a 5-3 lead that lasted the remainder of the game.

Kentucky got a run across in the seventh inning to make it 5-4 and had the tying run at second base, but it got no closer than that.

Entering this season, Kentucky had been eliminated in an NCAA Tournament super regional in four straight postseasons.

But this year, the Cats won’t get that far.

Virginia Tech will face Florida, the No. 14 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, in a super regional in Blacksburg.

Both Kentucky-based schools out of softball tournament

Only two schools based in Kentucky — UK and Murray State — were in the 64-team NCAA Tournament field.

Now, they’re both out.

Murray State was eliminated after going 0-2 in the Tuscaloosa Regional, which was hosted by Alabama.

Murray State, which won the Ohio Valley Conference Softball Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time, lost to Stanford and Chattanooga to be eliminated from the regional.

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