LEXINGTON, Ky. – Fresh off an impressive series sweep of Southeastern Conference foe Mississippi State over the weekend, the No. 21 University of Kentucky softball team is set to play eight of its next nine games on the road, beginning this week with a pair of midweek road contests at WKU and Lipscomb.
The Wildcats will start the week on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET at WKU before a 7 p.m. ET first pitch on Wednesday at Lipscomb. Live stats from both games will be available on UKathletics.com.
The midweek road games begin a stretch of travel for the Wildcats, who will play eight of their next nine games on the road. After this week’s midweek travel, Kentucky will return to the UK Softball Complex for a matchup with Tennessee on Friday at 5 p.m. ET. The single-game set will not count towards SEC standings. UK will then travel to in-state foe Louisville on April 3 before a three-game series in Columbia, S.C. from April 5-7. The road trip concludes with a doubleheader at EKU on April 10.
Head coach Rachel Lawson and Co. recently completed a 4-1 homestand with a win over WKU and three wins over Mississippi State. UK is 23-8 on the year with a 5-4 conference record. Kentucky is 16-6 in road or neutral-site games this season. The NCAA announced its first RPI listings of the season Monday afternoon with the Wildcats coming in at No. 8. Seven SEC schools were listed in the top 12 of the RPI.
The series win over Mississippi State was the sixth for Kentucky in the all-time series, marking the fourth time in the last five years that UK has won the series against its SEC foe. Entering the series, Mississippi State had won 14 of its last 16 games - good for the third best start in school history - including a school-record 12 consecutive road wins. The Bulldogs are currently receiving votes in both the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 and USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25. UK started conference play by taking two of three games from Ole Miss.
The Wildcat offense was the difference in the weekend series, scoring 15 runs on 24 hits with two doubles and seven home runs against a MSU pitching staff that entered the weekend ranked 22nd nationally in earned-run average. Senior Alice O'Brien paced the Wildcats with a .500 (5-for-10) average with one double, two home runs and three runs batted in. Freshman Nikki Sagermann also hit .500 (4-for-8) in the series with a home run and two runs scored. The other four home runs came from sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, who had a homer and two RBI, junior outfielder Emily Jolly, who nailed her first roundtripper of the year in the series finale, and a two-homer game from freshman Maisie Steed.
True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley was impressive in the series, going 2-0 and not allowing a run the entire weekend. Nunley pitched nine innings in relief Friday night to get the win before throwing a complete-game shutout in game two Saturday, allowing only two hits with seven strikeouts. Junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess went 1-0 in the series with a 2.62 ERA after earning a no-decision Friday night and a win in game one Saturday, allowing two runs on five hits over seven innings.
Joiner was key for the Wildcats behind the plate against MSU, posting a perfect fielding percentage while throwing out all five base runners that tried to steal. The talented backstop caught three batters stealing Friday night and two more Saturday in game one. For the season, Joiner has a .991 fielding percentage with 194 putouts, 18 assists and catching nearly 70 percent of base runners stealing.
Sagermann leads Kentucky in batting average this season at .389 (21-for-54) with two homers and 10 RBI, while Joiner and Cumbess have provided most of the power. Joiner leads the team in home runs and doubles with seven apiece, adding 26 RBI. Cumbess is second in doubles with six, adding three homers and 20 RBI. O’Brien also has pop in her bat with five doubles, three home runs and 21 RBI.
Nunley’s solid weekend lowered her overall ERA to 1.91, striking out a team-best 96 batters in 117.1 innings this season. In her 10 starts this year, Nunley is 7-3 with a 1.86 ERA, allowing 17 earned runs with 56 strikeouts. Cumbess is second on the team with a 2.52 ERA and a 6-2 record.
Tuesday will mark the second meeting in the last week between Kentucky and WKU after the Wildcats took down the Hilltoppers 7-1 in Lexington last Tuesday. Cumbess picked up the win, going four innings allowing one run with three strikeouts, while Nunley got the save with three scoreless innings to end the game. UK is 12-7 all-time against WKU, while the all-time series sits a 4-4 in games played at WKU.
Lipscomb is 14-15 this season having played several similar foes to Kentucky. The Bisons defeated Iowa in their first tournament of the season before falling to WKU and Mississippi State in their second weekend of play. Kelsey Cartwright leads the team with a .378 (17-for-45) average with five doubles and four homers, while Kristen Sturdivant has a team-high six homers and 16 RBI. Heather Parker is 4-8 in the circle with a team-low 2.49 ERA, while Tanner Sanders is 9-5 with a 2.85 ERA. Lipscomb won the lone meeting between the two schools, defeating UK 3-0 in a neutral site game in 2010.
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.