Kentucky is headed back to the NCAA Super Regional.
The 14th-seeded Wildcats completed a sweep of the Lexington Region on Sunday with a 4-2 win over Illinois at John Cropp Stadium. They will advance to play the third-seeded Oregon Ducks next week in Eugene, Ore.
It marks the fourth trip to the Super Regional in the last five years for the Cats.
"To be honest with you, I think we expected to win today," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "... We are a team that not only wants to go to Supers, but we want to be a team that gets national seeds and goes to the World Series. So, for us this is awesome and it’s a great feeling, but it’s just a step to where we want to go.”
To get there, Kentucky (39-17) got another strong pitching performance. Erin Rethlake (10-5) and Meagan Prince combined to hold the Illini to only one earned run on the day. Rethlake, a junior left-hander, tossed five scoreless innings before allowing a lone run in the sixth inning. It was the first run scored against the Cats during three games this weekend.
Prince, who pitched 13 scoreless innings in UK's first two wins, closed out the victory.
As they have done throughout the tourney, UK jumped out to an early lead. The Cats put three on the board in the first inning, highlighted by
Martens, a freshman second baseman, drove in her third run of the game with a sacrifice fly in the third inning to extend UK's lead to 4-0.
"I knew she was ready for the big time," Lawson said after relaying a story about Martens' recruiting visit to Lexington and how eager the McHenry, Ill., native was to be part of the program.
Illinois (39-20) got a single run in the sixth and seventh innings, but could not string together enough hits to truly threaten the Cats' pitchers. The Fighting Illini finished with seven hits on the day, led by two apiece from Ruby Rivera, Annie Fleming and Leigh Farina.
Breanna Wonderly (21-16) started and took the loss for Illinois, allowing four runs on eight hits and two walks over seven innings in the circle.