By LARRY VAUGHT
Rachel Lawson is hoping for a “great turnout” of Kentucky fans for this weekend’s NCAA Tournament Regional when UK will host Michigan, Notre Dame and Illinois-Chicago.
Kentucky is the top seed and will face No. 4 seed Illinois-Chicago, the Horizon League champion, on Friday. Michigan, the Big Ten champion, is the No. 2 seed and will play Notre Dame.
Lawson says UK has had terrific fan response to Southeastern Conference regular-season games as well as Super Regionals.
“But this is our third regional and the first two were not as great from BBN (fans) as SEC or Super Regional,” Lawson said Monday. “It’s almost like we are expected to go through (to the Super Regional). It hit me hard this year when games were tight and I didn’t not know how our young team would respond and the crowd got loud and electric and we scored runs. I think our fan base doesn’t understand how important, even in games we are expected to win, what a big role they play.”
Michigan (43-11) is playing in the NCAA for the 23rd straight year and split games with Notre Dame (32-21) during the season. Both teams have struggled in recent games. The Irish are 5-8 in the past 13 games, while the Wolverines have lost four of their past eight games and fell 7-0 to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
Notre Dame is in the tourney for the 20th straight year and 23rd time in the last 25 years.
Kentucky (31-19) enters NCAA Championship play after losing in its first game of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship tournament, 3-1 to Arkansas, in Columbia, Missouri. The Wildcats, an NCAA Women’s College World Series qualifier in 2014, have added NCAA Super Regional berths in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Illinois-Chicago (33-19) makes its second straight appearance in the NCAA after taking part in the NCAA Eugene Regional at Oregon in 2017.
“We were supposed to play them in a tournament earlier (this season),” Lawson said about Illinois-Chicago. “They can hit and they have a lot of speed. We played them last year and the pitcher did a great job early keeping us down. They know how to play the game the right way. I am expecting a team that is very aggressive and a pitcher that will keep the ball in the park.”
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The regional begins Friday at noon with No. 2 regional seed Michigan (43-11) taking on No. 3 seed Notre Dame (32-21). Following that game, at about 2:30 p.m., No. 1 seed Kentucky (31-19) plays No. 4 Illinois-Chicago (33-19).
The double-elimination tournament continues with three games Saturday, scheduled for noon, 2:30 and 5 p.m. The event concludes Sunday with one game at noon, and another at 2:30 p.m. if necessary.