HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Andi Williamson's memories of her first game against the University of Kentucky aren't all fond ones.
The Marshall University senior pitcher held a 3-1 lead going into bottom of the seventh against the then-No. 20 Wildcats. Then a pitch got away from catcher Katalin Lucas, who turned to grab the ball and fire it to second base to pick off a runner. Williamson was looking toward second and didn't see the throw coming, and it cracked her in the back of the head.
After a couple minutes on the ground, Williamson rose, walked back to the circle and demanded the ball. She stayed in the game, but the Wildcats rallied to win 4-3.
It's not often a player or a team gets a chance at redemption after a loss like that, but Williamson and the Thundering Herd get another shot at Kentucky on Friday in their first game of the NCAA Regional Tournament. The Herd (35-20), Conference USA Tournament champions, open against the 12th-seeded Wildcats (38-18) at 7:30 p.m.
"We didn't get to finish at our full potential," said Williamson, who missed five games with a concussion after that loss. "So I'm excited to go compete with them in a full game and show them what the Herd's made of."
This regional is the first in Marshall softball history, but not the first for Williamson. The 2009 West Virginia player of the year out of Chapmanville Regional High School, Williamson originally signed with the University of Tennessee and was a freshman when the Volunteers finished third in the 2010 College World Series.
After one season in Knoxville, she decided she wanted to play closer to home and transferred to Marshall, where she became one of the best pitchers in Herd history. Her 344 strikeouts this season shattered the mark of 270 set by Sara Gulla in 2001 and is second in Division I only to Hofstra pitcher Olivia Galati's total of 374. In her first game back after the concussion, Williamson struck out a school-record 16 against Ohio.
Marshall Coach Shonda Stanton said Williamson's fearlessness and competitive fire makes her as dominant as she is.
"Anytime she has the game ball, she gives us a chance to win the ballgame, no matter who we're playing," Stanton said.