The Eastern Kentucky University softball team is headed to its third NCAA tournament in program history and first appearance since 2004. The Colonels earned their first Ohio Valley Conference title in 17 years after defeating Southeast Missouri State last week.
After a shortened 2020 season and ending with a 22-2 overall record, the Colonels’ hard work is paying off a year later.
The Colonels won their first OVC title in program history in 2002 with a 7-4 win over Tennessee Tech and their first-ever bid into an NCAA tournament.
Only two years later, the Colonels would win their second OVC title in 2004 and record the most wins of a season, 42 on their way to another NCAA tournament appearance.
“I can’t tell you how fortunate and privileged we are to be here,” head coach Jane Worthington said. “The players earned it. We started last year and that was an unfortunate ending to the way it went, but it worked out and we’re here now and hopefully they will enjoy the process and play hard and know that they deserve to be here.”
The Colonels faced the Lady Volunteers to begin the regular season and fell in a doubleheader in Knoxville. Worthington said that by already competing against Tennessee in the regular season helps her team to prepare for the game on Friday.
“When we played them the first time, fans weren't allowed so that’s going to be a big difference for our team when you have 2,500 people there cheering against you,” Worthington said. “I mean we’ll have a bunch of our own fans, that’s the good thing about being close. But on the other hand, they’ve seen us so we’re not going to be able to sneak up on them.”
“If we can get through Tennessee I can’t imagine the energy going away,” Worthington said with a smile. “Because if we can beat them then there’s no reason that we can’t beat any team and every team.”
Worthington said in order to win Friday’s game they will rely on multiple pitchers and everyone will need to continue to do their job.
“All of them are capable of getting outs for us and we’re going to need them all,” Worthington said about her pitchers.
Worthington addressed her team about the larger than normal crowds and the fact that they earned to be in the NCAA tournament.
“The old saying, ‘It doesn’t matter the size of the dog, it matters about the fight in the dog’ that’s how I feel. That’s what they need to be thinking about. They belong on this field with any team that’s out here right now,” Worthington said.
Liberty and James Madison will be the other matchup on Friday in the Knoxville Regional. The regional is double elimination so EKU will face either Liberty or James Madison on Saturday.
“I think we got one of the best, toughest, regional out there,” Worthington said. “But if we can play well here and somehow get through it then we’ll be ready for anything. It will be a great experience no matter what happens.”
Worthington said the fan support throughout the season has made a difference and she expects even more support throughout the postseason.
“We’re going to have to hit our spots as far as pitching goes and they're going to have to come in and do a good job,” she said. “But in addition to that we’re going to have to make the plays behind them. Tennessee is going to hit the ball. We cannot give them extra opportunities… When you get to this stage of the season, you cannot give any team an extra out.”
The Colonels will play in the Knoxville Regional for their first round against No. 9 University of Tennessee. The first pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Friday and will air live on ESPN3.
EKU finished out the regular season with a 35-15 overall record and 22-9 in OVC play.