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Holly Aprile Returns To NCAA Tournament With Louisville

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(Photo Courtesy of Louisville Athletics)

Last May, Holly Aprile experienced heartbreak — not once, but twice.

Her Pittsburgh team was one out away from an ACC Tournament Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers led No. 7 Florida State 4-0 in the sixth inning and still had a 4-1 lead entering the seventh.

Then, disaster struck.

With two on, two outs and Pitt clinging to a two-run lead, Anna Shelnutt launched a home run off the scoreboard beyond the left-field wall, giving the Seminoles a 5-4 win and denying the Panthers their first-ever conference title.

Florida State went on to win the national championship, while the Panthers received another gut punch on Selection Sunday as they were left out of the tournament field.

“Every year in probably every sport when there’s selection committees for things, there’s always people like, ‘Why were we left out?’” Aprile said. “We had such an exciting finish and we were really playing at our best and we had gotten so much better throughout the year, we felt like we deserved to be in it and that we could have done some damage.”

Then over the summer, Aprile got a new coaching job at another ACC school that narrowly missed the tournament in 2018.

After 10 years at Pitt, Aprile moved on to Louisville, who had won at least 30 games in each of its first four seasons in the ACC but had just one NCAA Tournament appearance to show for it.

“Louisville is a place that I had always kind of admired,” Aprile said. “I’ve coached against Louisville for a long time and had been to the campus many times, and I liked a lot of things about it. Although a bit unusual to go to a school in your same conference, it was good because it was a little less of a learning curve.”

Aprile knew the program she joined, like the program she had left, had some unfinished business to take care of, and she set out to take the Cardinals back to the postseason.

Louisville entered ACC play with a 17-7 record, highlighted by wins over Michigan and Missouri. The Cardinals were just 4-5 in the conference, however, when then-No. 3 Florida State rolled into Ulmer Stadium, giving Aprile a chance to exact some revenge.

What followed was one of the most exciting series of the college softball season, in any conference. After splitting the first two games, Louisville took a game for the absolute ages in the rubber match.

Despite falling behind by three early, the Cardinals were on the brink of victory, leading by four in the seventh. The Seminoles then rallied for six runs to take a two-run lead, and Aprile had to be feeling some déjà vu.

But Louisville had a counter-comeback in the bottom half. The Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs, and freshman Rebecca Chung brought all three runners home with a double to give her team a 10-9 win and hand Florida State its first conference series loss since 2012.

While that series was the defining moment of Louisville’s season, the Cardinals stumbled down the stretch, getting swept at North Carolina State in their final regular-season series and then losing to North Carolina in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. But their resume, bolstered by the series win over the Seminoles, was good enough to secure an NCAA Tournament berth.

Louisville will be heading to Evanston, Illinois for a regional hosted by No. 16 seed Northwestern, a team that has defeated the Cardinals three times this year. Southern Illinois and Detroit Mercy will also be in Evanston, with the Salukis scheduled to take on Louisville in a first-round game Friday.

“It was really cool,” Aprile said. “The girls were very excited. I think some of them got a little bit nervous (watching the selection show), but it was definitely a fun moment.”

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NFCA Brings Back Division I Leadoff Classic For 2020

For the first time since 2014, the NFCA will host its Division I Leadoff Classic in 2020.