LEXINGTON, Ky. – On the heels of a 19-game road swing to start the season, the No. 15 University of Kentucky softball team is set to open the home portion of its 2013 schedule when it begins Southeastern Conference action this weekend with a three-game series against the Ole Miss Rebels. Admission to all three games is free of charge, while live stats and live video (subscription required) are available on UKathletics.com.
The series begins Friday with a 5 p.m. first pitch, followed by 1 p.m. start times on Saturday and Sunday. All three games will be played at the new UK Softball Complex, which is still undergoing construction but nearing completion. Friday’s game will mark the first game played in the new $9.5 million facility. All times are Eastern.
Kentucky (16-3) is coming off back-to-back undefeated weekends in non-conference tournaments for the first time in school history, going 3-0 in the Coke Zero Spartan Classic two weekends ago before posting a 5-0 mark in the Under Armour Invitational last weekend. The Wildcats enter the weekend series against Ole Miss on an eight-game winning streak, which ties the longest in school history. This is the fourth time since the program started in 1997 that UK has won eight consecutive games in a single season.
The Wildcats’ 16-3 start is the best 19-game start in school annals, breaking the 2011 team’s 15-4 start to the season. UK has earned the strong start against a trying schedule, playing eight of its 19 games against teams that are currently ranked or receiving votes in either the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 or USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25. UK has four wins over currently ranked teams in No. 6/6 California, No. 16/19 Washington, No. 18/19 Stanford and No. 23 Oregon State. The Wildcats have also defeated USC Upstate, who is receiving votes in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll and USF, who is receiving votes in both polls. Cal and USF were participants in the 2012 Women’s College World Series.
The strong start has moved Kentucky from unranked to begin the season to 15th in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 and 17th in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25. The top-15 posting in this week’s ESPN.com/USA Softball poll ties the highest ranking by the outlet in school history. The Wildcats were also ranked 15th nationally by ESPN.com/USA Softball on April 26, 2011. The highest ranking in school history was 13th in the 2012 USA Today/NFCA preseason rankings. All national rankings have come during the tenure of sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson.
Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess has paced the Wildcats offensively this season with a .373 (22-for-59) average, including a team-high 18 runs batted in. Senior infielder Kara Dill leads the team in hits with 24 behind a .358 (24-for-67) batting average and a team-best 21 runs scored. UK’s power this season has come mostly from sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, who leads the team with seven doubles and four homers. True freshman Maisie Steed is second on the team with three roundtrippers, while senior Alice O’Brien has added pop to the lineup with three doubles, one homer and 15 RBI. O’Brien has four sacrifice flies on the year, tying the school record for most sacrifice flies in a single season.
True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley has led the way for Kentucky in the circle, becoming the first player in program history to start a year with a 10-0 record. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., has a 2.16 earned-run average on the year while leading the team in innings pitched (68.0) and strikeouts (55). In her six starts this season, Nunley is 6-0 with a 1.23 ERA, throwing 40 innings with 37 strikeouts and only seven earned runs.
Cumbess has also pitched well for UK, including a strong showing last weekend in Tampa, Fla., when she threw 12 innings, allowing three hits, two runs – one earned run – with 11 strikeouts. Overall this season, Cumbess is 4-1 with a 2.39 ERA, striking out 36 batters in 38 innings pitched. Opponents are only hitting .195 against Cumbess this season.
Junior pitcher Ellen Weaver is 1-2 on the year with a 4.45 ERA. Weaver’s best outing of the year came two weekends ago when she threw five scoreless innings against Georgetown, allowing only one hit. The native of Salem, Va., followed that performance by going four innings against USF last weekend, allowing two runs on six hits with two strikeouts.
UK has shown a will to win this season in close games, posting a 5-0 record in one-run games and a 4-0 mark in extra innings. From the sixth inning on this season, including extra innings, UK has outscored its opponents 30-5.
Ole Miss (16-9) enters the weekend on a three-game winning streak after going 4-1 in the UCF Holiday Inn Select Spring Fling last weekend in Orlando, Fla. The Rebels, who have won 12 of their last 13 games, have been jumping on teams early this season, outscoring their opponents 28-7 in the first inning. Ole Miss is 8-3 in neutral-site games this season, but 0-4 in true road games.
Junior outfielder RT Cantillo leads the team in average this season with a .426 (29-for-68) mark, including six doubles, one triple and three homers. Cantillo is second on the team with 19 RBI, while sophomore infielder Allison Brown leads the squad in that category with 21 RBI. Cantillo and junior first baseman Londen Ladner are tied for the team lead in homers with three.
In the circle, junior pitcher Shelby Jo Fenter leads the way for Ole Miss with a 5-5 record and a 2.75 ERA. Fenter leads the team with 61 innings pitched, allowing 24 earned runs with 60 strikeouts. Junior pitcher Carly Hummel is 6-4 so far this season with a 3.29 ERA in 55.1 innings, while Erinn Jayjohn is 2-0 with a 2.85 ERA in just 27 innings.
The Rebels and Wildcats have one common opponent this season in highly ranked Washington. Ole Miss lost to the Huskies 10-2 in the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic in Hawaii, while UK defeated Washington 3-2 in the 23rd Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego.
Ole Miss leads the all-time series against the Wildcats 26-16. The two teams squared off in a two-game, midweek series last season in Oxford, Miss., with Kentucky winning both games. This is the first meeting between the two teams in Lexington, Ky., since 2009 when UK won the three-game series 2-1. The Wildcats are 8-3 against Ole Miss in Lawson’s five-year tenure, while they are 8-11 against the Rebels all-time in Lexington.
The three-game set begins a five-game homestand for Kentucky. UK will have two non-conference games next week. The Wildcats will play host to No. 25 North Carolina on Tuesday, March 5 at 5 p.m. ET and Southern Illinois on Wednesday, March 6 at 3 p.m. ET.
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