Now we head to Lexington, KY where Kentucky will host in what some thought was a bit of surprise. See what our staff had to say on the topic in the podcast below. Kentucky (31-19) comes in as the top seed in the region. The Wildcats enter the tournament going just 4-6 over their last 10 games. Joining the Wildcats this weekend will be Michigan (43-11), Notre Dame (32-21) and UIC (33-19). Games will start at Noon eastern on Friday. More info can be found here.
Kentucky gets the top seed but this will not be an easy weekend for them. As stated above they have had some struggles in the back half of the season. At the plate, they have been decent with a team average of .306. Leading the way is Bailey Vick (.384). Vick also leads the team in stolen bases (16). Power will come from Abbey Cheek who has went yard 15 times this season. Coach Lawson has used three pitchers throughout the season. Throwing the most innings has been Grace Baalman (12-8). Baalman carries a 2.37 ERA with 93 strikeouts over 124 innings. The other two pitchers, Erin Rethlake (9-4) and Autumn Humes (9-7) combined for 181.2 innings. It would figure that all three would be used this weekend. They will all have to play well for the Wildcats to advance.
Best Shot at the Upset
Michigan stands out as the one with the best chance of knocking off Kentucky. They have more wins and have as many quality wins as the Wildcats. Michigan has stumbled a bit at the end of the season also, but may have the edge in the circle with freshman phenom Meghan Beaubien (32-4). Beaubien has been outstanding this season coming into the weekend with a 1.09 ERA and 250 strikeouts over 199.1 innings of work. Tera Blanco is second on the team in average (.355) and leads the team in home runs (10) and RBI’s (42). Not much separates Michigan and Kentucky.
Players to Watch
Faith Canfield has played a significant role in the Michigan offense this season. She leads the team with a .406 average and has 13 doubles and seven home runs on the year. Lexi Watts of UIC has been solid all season posting a .445 batting average. She is also dangerous on the bases having stolen 32 bases on the year. For the Fighting Irish at the plate, they are led by Ali Wester. Wester is batting .381 on the season.
If Michigan shows up with the offense they are capable, and Beaubien throws like she has most the year, they should be able to beat Kentucky in this regional. Now with that said, Kentucky is at home and that can be an advantage. The pitching staff will also need to step up if the Wildcats are going to advance. Michigan has to first beat Notre Dame, something they did earlier this season. The Wolverines took two-of-three from the Irish early in the season. Kentucky did face Big Ten tournament champion Minnesota and dropped a 2-1 game earlier in the year. We are picking Michigan to advance.