Softball World Series bound
Former Northgate star Smith, Kentucky headed to first CWS
by Doug Gorman
Big-time venues have never bothered former Northgate softball player Ansley Smith.
After helping lead the Lady Vikings to the Class AAAA title as a senior, the former Newnan Times Herald two-time Player of the Year, is used to pressure-packed moments.
Tonight, however, Smith is playing on the biggest softball stage of her career.
The University of Kentucky sophomore second baseman will help lead the No. 13-ranked Lady Wildcats (49-17) into their first-ever trip to the College World Series against No. 6 Louisiana-Lafayette (44-8-1) at 7 p.m. in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
Kentucky is one of the eight finalists in the double-elimination event in Oklahoma City, which also including SEC rivals Florida and Alabama.
“It is an exciting time for us,” said Smith in a phone interview after her team finished practice Wednesday. “We are really happy to be here. Everything is coming together at the right time, and we really think we have a chance to win it all.”
Smith and her Lady Wildcat teammates punched their ticket to Oklahoma City with two huge victories over UCLA in a Super Regional in Los Angeles last weekend. The Lady Bruins entered the best-of-three series ranked third in the nation.
Kentucky shook off the three-hour time difference and a 6-4 loss in the first game to advance to the World Series with a pair of 7-1 and 7-3 victories in the final two games against the Lady Bruins to win the best-of-three series.
Smith scored a run en route to the victory in game No. 3.
“The time difference really wasn’t that big of a deal, she said. “We got to sleep in a little bit later and just kind of relaxed. After losing the first game, we refocused. We didn’t want it to end this way.”
The upset over the Lady Bruins included getting the best of pitcher and National Player of the Year candidate Jessica Hall in the deciding contest.
Smith stepped right in as a freshman and has been an important part of the Kentucky roster from day one.
The former Lady Viking has displayed plenty of power during her college career, hitting three home runs in each of her first two seasons in Lexington.
This year, she came up with some timely hits, and heads to the team’s first ever College World Series after driving in 38 runs.
Smith admits playing at a program like Northgate and years of high-level travel ball helped made the transition to the college game much easier, but the SEC is always going to be a challenge. In addition to the three schools that qualified for the Series from the conference, Georgia and Tennessee also advanced to last week’s Super Regionals before being eliminated.
“We see great competition all the time,” she said. “I have played against a lot of these girls in the SEC since I was a little in travel ball, but the talent level and the improvement has skyrocketed. We have great coaches in this league.”
Smith and her teammates set the tone for its historical season back in the first week of February when it won five times in California to begin the season in an opening season tournament.
The biggest victory came in a 5-4 decision against defending national champion Oklahoma.
Little did Smith know back then, the Lady Wildcats were destined to travel through Southern California again to get to the College World Series.
“When we went out there and played well, especially when we beat Oklahoma, we thought we had a chance to be really good,” she said.
Smith and her teammates opened the season with 12 consecutive victories while going undefeated in another tournament at the University of Texas and then taking three out of five during a trip to Florida Atlantic.
Kentucky didn’t lose for the first time until falling to Kent State and Michigan by a pair of 3-0 decision in the Florida Atlantic tournament.
In Florida, Smith played against Michigan pitcher Megan Betsa. The two hooked up several times during their high school days when Betsa pitched for high school region rival Union Grove.
The Lady Wildcats won nine games in a row in the middle of the season to help get it ready for the SEC tournament where they beat Mississippi State, Tennessee and LSU before falling to Georgia in the title game.
Kentucky’s solid effort gave Smith and her teammates an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament where the team knocked off Ohio and DePaul to earn its bid to the best of three Super Regionals out in Los Angeles.
Win or lose, the Lady Wildcats will play a rematch against teams they have seen before, meeting either SEC foe Alabama or Oklahoma.
“We are watching a lot of film, will be ready” she said.
First-round games begin at noon with Florida playing Baylor. Top-ranked Oregon follows against No. 8 Florida State, at 2:30. Both games will be shown on ESPN.
The Alabama and Oklahoma game follows the Lady Wildcats’ contest at 8:30.
Smith’s parents, Paul and Lisa are in Oklahoma City for the World Series and several friends are also expected to tune in to watch tonight’s telecast.
“We have a great group of fans,” she said. “It is exciting to play on television, but we just try and tune it all out and stay focused. Our goal is to take it one game at a time and see what happens.”
The File on Ansley Smith:
- Sophomore Second Baseman University of Kentucky
- Starting shortstop of Northgate High School 2011 Class AAAA state champions
-Two-time Newnan Times Herald Player of the Year
- Daughter of Paul and Lisa Smith