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Link: espnW on Gaines and her senior-year emergence for UK softball

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Senior Emily Gaines is batting .427 and slugging .707 -- both team highs -- this season. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Senior Emily Gaines is batting .427 and slugging .707 -- both team highs -- this season. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
From opening day onward, UK softball has been among the nation's elite. The Wildcats won their first 12 games and have been ranked in the top 10 for much of the season.

But over the last month, a new player has emerged for Rachel Lawson's team. Primarily a pinch hitter through her first three-plus seasons, senior outfielder and London, Ky., native Emily Gaines has become one of UK's top performers.

In fact, she's been so good that Graham Hays of espnW.com did a story on her hot streak and her entire UK career.

The player who had more hits in high school than anyone else in state history went without a single one as a freshman. She saw a few more at-bats in each of the subsequent two seasons but finished her junior year with 18 career hits.

"At the end of the first couple of years, I thought she was going to quit for sure," Lawson said. "I didn't want her to, but a lot of times in D-I, and in college athletics, it comes down to playing time. And she wasn't getting the playing time that I know she had wanted and she had hoped for."

Suffice to say, both options occurred to Gaines.

"They were kind of in the back of my mind," she said. "I guess with anyone that would kind of be in the back of your mind. But I really wanted to stick it out, and I knew I could do it if I just stuck with it and worked harder and kept working. I'm a Kentucky girl, I've grown up in Kentucky, and it's just every little girl's dream to grow up and play for Kentucky.

"I wanted to stick with it and see what I could do."

Lawson said she saw a difference in Gaines in fall practice, a new confidence that carried through winter workouts and into the season. Be that as it may, the senior still spent the first three weeks of the season in a familiar role, pinch hitting if she appeared in the box score at all. Then she hit a two-out, walk-off home run, the first home run of her college career, to beat Eastern Kentucky in a start on March 1. She started once the following weekend in the team's first SEC series and all three games the weekend after that.

She hasn't been out of the starting lineup much since.

Since Gaines became a regular starter on Feb. 28, UK is 23-6, including an ongoing seven-game winning streak as the Cats prepare to host Southeastern Conference foe Arkansas this weekend.

For more on Gaines, make sure to check out Hays' complete story.

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