The Louisville softball team is headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight season after winning the American Athletic Conference tournament title over the weekend.
The Cardinals (36-20) earn the league's automatic bid for their 11th straight NCAA appearance after bearing Central Florida 3-2 Sunday afternoon at Cougar Stadium in Houston.
"I thought our team did an amazing job today against a very tough UCF team," said UofL coach Sandy Pearsall. "Rachel LeCoq pitched a great game and Katie Keller came through for us once again -- nobody could get her out this weekend. This was a complete team effort and I especially want to give credit to my coaching staff who worked so hard to make sure our team was prepared to win this championship."
Keller was two for two with a home run, a triple and two runs while fellow senior Rachel LeCoq held the Knights in check through the final six innings, scattering two hits and striking out three after entering the game in relief in the second inning.
"I felt like for this first time this season our players played free," Pearsall said. "They played three games and just had fun out there. We weren't expected to win, but our team, especially our seniors, realized that if they lost, that would be it. They played well with their backs against the wall."
Congratulations to the AAC Conference Champs 2014....@UofLSoftball !!!!!! pic.twitter.com/SdnsbHusoL— adrienne sanabria (@asanabria1114) May 12, 2014
NCAAs AT ARIZONA
NCAA Softball officials typically try to put teams in the NCAA tournament within driving distance of their regional site, but Louisville was shipped out west to Arizona.
The Cardinals (36-20) will open the Tucson Regional against No. 23 LSU on Friday May 16 at 8:04 (EDT) - the game will be shown live on ESPN3. Host Arizona and Boston University will meet in the other first round game of the regional.
"Yeah, we thought maybe we'd get a place that is bus-able, but if you have to be shipped out west, UA is a great place to go," Pearsall said.
KELLER IS NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Keller was named the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Week by the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and USA Softball on May 13.
"I am very grateful for this honor," said Keller. "I just went out there and tried to do my best for my team and I am just so proud that we won our conference championship and will be playing the NCAA tournament this weekend. I'm fortunate to be playing the game I love with my teammates and coaches."
Keller, the American Athletic Conference Championship Most Outstanding Player, batted 1.000 (5 for 5) with three home runs, a triple, six RBIs and six runs the Cardinals' tournament championship run. She posted a 3.200 slugging percentage and added four walks and was hit by a pitch to add to her 1.000 on-base percentage.
In the first game of the tournament, Keller went 2 for 2 from the plate with two runs including an RBI on a solo homer in the bottom of the first inning that propelled Louisville to a 5-3 win over Temple. The Cardinals were then pitted against South Florida for the semifinals and Keller's streak continued as she went one-for-one with a full-count grand slam in the second inning. The Senior finished the game with two runs and four RBI as Louisville run ruled the Bulls 8-0 in six innings earning them a spot in the conference tournament finals.
Facing UCF, Keller's dominance extended for a third game. The California native gave Louisville an early lead when she led off the second inning by taking a full-count pitch over the right field fence for her sixth home run of the season. She finished the contest two-for-two from the plate with a homer, a triple and two runs scored guiding the Cardinals to the 3-2 win and AAC title.
"This is a well-deserved honor for Katie. She had a great weekend and was impressive both offensively and defensively. She definitely set the tone for our team and played a huge role in winning the conference championship."
The four-time All-Conference selection and 2013 All-American leads the team with a .402 batting average, has six home runs, 19 doubles, 35 RBIs and has scored 49 runs. She is ranked among Louisville's top five in career runs, RBI, hits, doubles, home runs and walks.
This marks the second USA Softball National Player of the Week nod for Keller who became the first player in program history to earn the award on March 5, 2013. She is the school's only two-time honoree.