Miami softball eager to face Kentucky -- again -- in NCAA Tournament



Kirin Kumar didn’t shy away from being reminded of how Miami’s women’s softball team fared in last season’s NCAA Division I tournament.

After edging Kentucky, 7-5, in a non-conference regular-season game, the RedHawks were drubbed by the Wildcats, 15-1, in a Blacksburg, Va., first-round regional tournament matchup in five innings.

“Go ahead,” the third-year Miami coach said on Monday. “You can say it.”

The 37-18 RedHawks are scheduled to get a shot at revenge when they meet the 30-20-1 Wildcats in the first-round of the Evanston, Ill., double-elimination regional hosted by Northwestern University on Friday. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Twelfth-seeded Northwestern (38-11) and 34-19 Eastern Illinois also are in the regional.

Kumar, who is 123-45-1 at Miami, isn’t concerned that her players will be over-hyped to face Kentucky.

“Our motivation, what we’ve worked for all season, is to get to this point,” she said Monday morning, hours after the team indulged in a watch party on Sunday night while finding out where they’d be going after winning a second consecutive Mid-American Conference Tournament championship. “It’s going to be difficult, no matter who we play. We didn’t schedule Kentucky during the regular season knowing we might meet them in the regional. We’ll just play our game.”

Catcher-outfielder Allie Cummins, a Lakota West product and graduate student who finished third in the conference in slugging percentage and led the MAC with a .500 on-base percentage, during her fifth season at Miami. She has a message prepared for her teammates if she detects any sense of being too anxious or over-motivated.

“I would say learn from what we’ve gone through in the past,” said Cummins, who has one more year of eligibility and plans to use it. “We lost to them in the tournament, but we beat them in the regular season. What happened, happened. I would say what we learned from the win, but also take what we learned from the loss. The nerves will be there. We just have to remind them that we’re one of the top softball schools in the country.”

Miami earned its berth after winning a fourth consecutive MAC regular-season championship, followed by a 6-2 win over Ohio in the conference tournament championship game that clinched a seventh NCAA Tournament appearance.

Led by graduate student and pitcher Brianna Pratt, sophomore center fielder Jenna Golembiewski and junior third baseman Karli Spaid, the RedHawks maintained their reputation as offensive juggernauts. They led the conference with a .301 batting average, 91 home runs – the 49 more than the next team – as well as 313 runs batted in and 91 doubles. Golembiewski led the conference in slugging percentage on her way to being named the conference Player of the Year. Spaid led the MAC with 21 homers, 58 RBIs and 53 runs scored and finished second in slugging percentage.

Golembiewski, Cummins, Pratt and catcher and graduate student Riley Coyne all were named first-team all-MAC this season. Senior first baseman Holly Blaska, who led the MAC with 17 doubles, was a second-team pick.

Miami’s roster also includes freshman Madie Patton, a Talawanda graduate.

The right-handed Pratt led the MAC with 30 wins and 31 complete games and finished second with 191 strikeouts.

Even though Pratt racked up impressive strikeout numbers, Kumar believes she had to depend more on Miami’s defense this season, especially during the conference tournament – and the RedHawks were up to the task. Pratt logged just seven strikeouts over 21 innings in three tournament games.

“Being a dropball pitcher, defense is a big deal when you’re not striking people out,” Kumar pointed out. “We made some phenomenal plays. It was really good to see that. Our defense gives the offense chances to win. Last year, we had two pitchers with a lot of strikeouts, and the defense wasn’t as active.”

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