The magnitude of tonight’s game is enormous. With a chance to go to the world series and a season both on the line tonight, there are many components to tonight’s game that will determine the outcome. Whether it’s Oregon’s pitching or Kentucky’s bats prevailing, these will be the keys to tonight’s crucial game three.
1. Kleist or Elish
Tonight Mike White will have a tough decision to face heading into game three, does he start the PAC-12 Pitcher of the Year or does he ride with what worked last night in Miranda Elish. Like I mentioned last night, Kleist’s approach seems to benefit Kentucky more, but after the year she’s had I wouldn’t be surprised if Oregon went with her in game three. I believe the signs are pointing to her starting as well, last night Mike White sent her to the bullpen that way she could see herself throw good pitches ahead of another performance. IF Mike White rolls with Kleist tonight it will be interesting to see if the Cats can elevate the ball more tonight and get some runs on the board, or if they go with Elish again, what type of adjustments will Kentucky make to get on base.
2. How will Kentucky’s Bats Respond?
The Cats’ bats were cooled off last night after looking unstoppable in their first four postseason games, even Abbey Cheek was held at bay. Against a team like Oregon, they have to hit, relying on their pitching staff and defense won’t get it done. Not saying Rethlake can shut this Oregon team down because I believe she is fully capable, but in the first two games of this Super Regional the Ducks have seen all three UK pitchers twice, so they will have a feel of what each pitcher is bringing to the table. They will have to score, and if the top of the lineup can set the tone early for Kentucky, I think the Cats should fair well tonight.
3. How Loose will Kentucky Play?
In game one Kentucky came in with a nothing to lose, us against the world mentality and it worked. From the first pitch, you could see they were confident and had no fear of the Ducks. Last night seemed to be a different story, while they were loose before the game running routes in the outfield when the game started, it looked like Oregon had all the energy, and that would carry throughout the game. If Kentucky comes out unphased and gets the energy going early, I believe it will be a fun night for Rachel Lawson and the Wildcats.
4. Kentucky is Battle Tested
Finally, the most important aspect of tonight’s game, Kentucky is battle tested. Kentucky had the second strongest strength of schedule this season in softball and played in the toughest conference. Kentucky has honestly prepared for this moment all season, and it will be interesting to see if their strength of schedule will benefit them tonight against their toughest opponent yet.
If Kentucky can capitalize on all of these tonight, they will be in good shape to head to the College World Series for the second time in school history. First Pitch is slated for 9 pm ET on ESPN.