LEXINGTON, Ky. – After its lone conference bye weekend of the season, the No. 20/21 University of Kentucky softball team is set to begin a stretch of seven games over the next eight days, starting with an in-state showdown vs. No. 11/11 Louisville on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET at Ulmer Stadium in Louisville, Ky. Live stats from the game can be found at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky (24-9, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) has won four of its last five games after a three-game sweep of Mississippi State, who was receiving votes at the time, two weekends ago, and a midweek road win at Lipscomb last Wednesday. The Wildcats lone loss during the stretch was to top-five ranked Tennessee in a non-conference home game last Friday.
After the single-game set with Louisville on Wednesday, Kentucky will restart SEC action by traveling to South Carolina for a three-game series beginning Friday. UK will face Marshall on Tuesday, April 9 in a rescheduled game from an earlier rainout before a doubleheader at Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday, April 10. The Wildcats will return home April 12-14 vs. Florida for the official opening of the newly constructed UK Softball Complex. The weekend will feature numerous promotions to introduce UK fans to the new facility. Stay tuned to UKathletics.com for more information on the weekend’s events.
The Wildcats have played well against non-conference foes this season, posting an 18-5 record in non-SEC games, including a 16-3 mark away from home in those games. Catcher Griffin Joiner, who is putting together a great sophomore campaign, has been terrific at the plate in those games, hitting .379 (22-for-58) with seven doubles, one triple, six homers and 22 RBI. Freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley and junior hurler Lauren Cumbess are a combined 15-2 in the circle in non-conference games, striking out a combined 106 batters in 125 innings.
Kentucky has also performed well in clutch situations this season, boasting a 7-2 record in one-run games and 5-1 record in extra-inning affairs. UK is 22-1 this season when leading or tied after the fourth inning, while the Wildcats have won 14 of the 16 games they have scored first in. Kentucky is 4-4 in true road games this season while it sits 17-7 overall away from the UK Softball Complex.
For the second consecutive week, the Wildcats stayed at No. 20 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 and No. 21 in USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25. UK has been in the top 25 of both polls since entering the rankings on Feb. 12. Kentucky was receiving votes in both preseason polls.
Head coach Rachel Lawson and Co., have defeated four teams that were ranked in either poll at the time UK faced them in then-No. 3 California, No. 16 Washington, No. 20 Stanford and No. 25 North Carolina. UK has played 15 games against teams currently ranked in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 and 13 games against teams currently ranked in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25. UK holds an 8-7 record against the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 and a 7-6 record against the USA Today/NFCA Top 25.
The Wildcats are scheduled to play 11 more games against teams ranked highly in both polls, including two games against Louisville. UK will also play three-game sets against No. 3/3 Florida, No. 4/7 Alabama and No. 6/7 Missouri.
Kentucky enters the series led offensively by freshman Nikki Sagermann, who is hitting .367 (22-for-60) with one double, two home runs and 11 RBI. Joiner, Cumbess and freshman Maisie Steed have been the power bats for Kentucky. Joiner leads the team with eight doubles, eight homers and 28 RBI, while Cumbess is second with 22 RBI adding four homers. Steed has six roundtrippers in her rookie campaign along with 12 RBI. Senior Alice O’Brien and freshman Christian Stokes each have three home runs and 20-plus RBI this season.
In the circle, Nunley paces the Wildcats with a 15-4 record and a 2.00 ERA. Nunley’s 15 wins already rank her tied for sixth in the UK single-season record books. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., has struck out 104 batters in 129.1 innings this season with opponents hitting .209 against her. Cumbess is second on the team in pitching with a 2.52 ERA and a 6-2 record. Cumbess has 55 strikeouts this season in 64 innings pitched.
Louisville (28-6, 2-1 Big East) enters the week ranked 11th in both collegiate softball polls. The Cardinals are led offensively by junior second baseman Katie Keller who is hitting .473 (52-for-110) on the season with eight home runs, 39 runs scored and 32 RBI. Senior first baseman Alicja Wolny is hitting .411 (39-for-95) with six homers and 24 RBI, while junior catcher Maggie Ruckenbrod has a .361 (35-for-97) average with 11 doubles and 28 RBI. Junior pitcher Caralisa Connell has an 18-2 record this season with a 1.77 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 130.2 innings, while junior Rachel LeCoq is 10-4 with a 2.05 ERA and 47 strikeouts.
Louisville leads the all-time series against Kentucky 17-13, including an 8-7 edge in the series in Louisville. The Cardinals have won seven straight home games in the series dating back to 2007, including two last season. UK and U of L met three times last season with the Cardinals earning one-run wins in all three games. The final meeting was an NCAA Regional elimination game in Louisville with the Cardinals posting a 3-2 victory. U of L leads the all-time series in games played in Lexington 6-9. UK has played more games against Louisville than any other non-SEC team in school history.
Wednesday’s game is the first of two scheduled games this season between Kentucky and Louisville. The Cardinals will travel to Lexington on Wednesday, April 24 for a 6 p.m. ET first pitch.
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