LEXINGTON, Ky. – After successful appearances in its previous three tournaments to start the 2013 season, the No. 17/19 University of Kentucky softball team looks to conclude its 19-game season-opening road trip with a strong showing in the Under Armour Invitational this weekend in Tampa, Fla. The tournament is being hosted by the University of South Florida with games being played at the USF Softball Stadium and the Eddie C. Moore Sports Complex.
Kentucky (11-3) will play five games over three days at the event, starting with a doubleheader on Friday against Illinois and the host Bulls of USF. The Wildcats will battle the Illini (5-9) at 11:30 a.m. before taking on USF (6-8) at 2 p.m., with both games being played at the USF Softball Stadium. UK will play two more games Saturday, squaring off against Loyola Marymount (4-6) at 12:15 p.m. and Central Michigan (2-3) at 2:45 p.m. at the Eddie C. Moore Sports Complex. Finally, Kentucky and Western Michigan (3-8) will play for the second time this season at 9 a.m. at the Eddie C. Moore Sports Complex on Sunday. All times are Eastern.
Head coach Rachel Lawson and Co. are coming off a 3-0 weekend in the Coke Zero Spartan Classic, defeating Georgetown, Howard and USC Upstate, who is now receiving votes in the ESPN.com/USA Softball top 25. In all, the Wildcats scored 34 runs in the tournament, hitting .333 (29-for-87) as a team with seven doubles, one triple, four homers and 28 RBI. In the circle, UK posted a 2.23 ERA in the three games with 19 strikeouts and only four walks.
Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner had one of the best weekends of her career in Spartanburg, S.C., hitting .583 (7-for-12) with two doubles, two homers and eight RBI. Joiner, who has started at catcher in every game this season, had 22 putouts at the event without committing an error. Freshman Maisie Steed and senior Alice O’Brien also blasted homers at the event, while junior Lauren Cumbess had two doubles and five RBI.
Junior pitcher Ellen Weaver threw her best outing of the year at the event, going five strong innings against Georgetown, allowing only one hit with three strikeouts to record her first win of the season. Freshman Katie Henderson made her collegiate debut last Sunday, throwing a one-hitter against Howard with eight strikeouts. Fellow freshman Kelsey Nunley continued her impressive start to the season with a nine-inning effort in relief against USC Upstate to pick up her seventh win of the year.
Cumbess leads the Wildcats in hitting this season with a .452 (19-for-42) mark, including a team-high 15 RBI, four doubles and two homers. Joiner paces the team in homers this season with three roundtrippers, while senior infielder Kara Dill has a team-high 15 hits. O’Brien has 10 hits this season, adding three doubles, a homer and nine RBI.
Nunley leads the team in ERA at 2.27, throwing a team-high 46.1 innings, allowing 17 runs – 15 earned – with 37 strikeouts. Cumbess has a 3.23 ERA this season with 25 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched, while Weaver has a 3.96 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 17.2 innings pitched.
The Fighting Illini enter the tournament with a 5-9 record, including a 3-8 mark in neutral site games. Illinois is led offensively by Brittany Sanchez, who is hitting a .325 (13-for-40) with one double and five RBI, while Jess Perkins leads the team in RBI with nine, including two homers. In the circle, Shelese Arnold leads the team with a 1.81 ERA and a 1-4 record. She is followed by Pepper Gay is 4-5 on the year with a 4.28 ERA in a team-high 50.2 innings. Illinois’ losses have come to quality teams in No. 1 Alabama, No. 6 Texas (twice), No. 8 California and No. 22 Washington. This is the first ever meeting between the two schools in softball.
USF is coming off a midweek loss to highly ranked Florida at home on Wednesday 3-1. The Bulls are 6-9 this season after advancing to the Women’s College World Series last season. Kourtney Salvarola leads the team in batting average at .342 with four doubles, one homer and five RBI, while Lee Ann Spivey has a team-high seven RBI. In the circle, Lindsey Richardson leads the way with a 3-3 record and a 1.53 ERA, while Sara Nevins is 2-3 with a 1.62 ERA. UK is 0-1 all-time against the Bulls.
Loyola Marymount has played a tough schedule so far this season, facing off against Florida, Arizona State and Northwestern. The Lions are 4-6 overall having played all neutral site games. Sterling Shuster leads the team with a .414 average, including three doubles and four RBI. Sydney Gouveia paces the team in the circle with a 3.29 ERA behind a 1-1 record, while Dana Waldusky is 2-4 with a 3.54 ERA. UK is 0-1 all-time against the Lions.
Central Michigan has not played nearly as many games this season as most teams, sitting at 2-3 overall, including 0-2 at home and 2-1 in neutral sites. Katelyn Rentschler paces the team with a .400 average, while CarolAnn Sexauer leads the team with two homers and six RBI. In the circle, Kara Dornbos leads the Chippewas with a 2.84 ERA. CMU has wins over Hampton and Bradley, while it has fallen to New Mexico (twice) and IPFW. This is the first ever meeting between the two schools in softball.
The Broncos enter the weekend having already played the Wildcats in the second game of the season when UK earned a 12-1 victory in five innings. Western Michigan is 3-8 this season with wins against Cal Poly, Dayton and Valpo. Melissa Palmer leads the team in batting with a .324 average, while Sabrina Gamboa leads the squad with one homer and five RBI. In the circle, Allyson Kus holds a 4.64 ERA and a 1-2 record in 25.2 innings pitched, while Becca Shemberger is 1-4 with a 5.16 ERA. UK is 2-0 all-time against the Broncos.
Kentucky will play host to the SEC Tournament this season for the first time in school history. The event, which is considered one of the most prestigious softball tournaments in the nation, will be May 8-11 in Lexington. The championship game will be featured on ESPN2, while all other games will be shown on ESPNU. Ticket information for the tournament can be found here: http://www.ukathletics.com/secsoftball/tickets.html.