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Joiner setting the tone for UK behind the plate

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Griffin Joiner has caught every game for Kentucky in 2014 as the Wildcats prepare for a Super Regional showdown with UCLA. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Griffin Joiner has caught every game for Kentucky in 2014 as the Wildcats prepare for a Super Regional showdown with UCLA. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
One of the most physically demanding positions in the sport, it takes a certain amount of toughness to be a catcher. Add to it the fact that your head coach is a former catcher and the position gets even more demanding.
 
Kentucky's Griffin Joiner fits the mold perfectly.

"Griffin is everything to the program," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "When I went out recruiting, I'm very picky about who my catcher is, and Griffin fit the bill in every way possible. Most importantly because the way she is. Her blue-collar work ethic, how tough she is and the person she is on and off the field."
 
One of two captains for the UK softball team, Joiner has caught every pitch of every game this season for the Wildcats. The junior has started all 185 games in her career, including 178 straight behind the plate. Just two of Joiner's starts, both within the first eight games of her freshman campaign, have not come as catcher.
 
No one has played that many games in that timeframe, much less started behind the plate. Only sophomore Christian Stokes has played in every game in each of the past two seasons.
 
Joiner is Kentucky's own Iron Man.
 
"When everyone is looking at Griffin, she gives them a sense of confidence and toughness that, if there were another catcher behind the plate, I'm not sure the same thing would be happening right now," Lawson said.
 
Ask Joiner about her physical and mental toughness -- which her teammates and coaches laud her for -- and she responds like it's no big deal. She got her toughness over time through experience. After all, it's what being a catcher is. There isn't any other way.
 
"I'm used to it," Joiner said. "With my position I'm used to being tough. It's all I'm used to. My parents were tough on me, my coaches have always been tough on me. It's like a point guard in basketball. When you're in a leadership position, you take the heat because you're expected to be the leader and do well in those situations."
 
Joiner's work ethic has rubbed off on her teammates, especially sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley. Nunley has started 30 games in 2014, including seven of the last eight games.
 
"I think she's the biggest leader on the team," Nunley said. "She's really important to the team because she plays such a big role as leader. The past few weeks I've pitched a lot and my body's been through that, so I kind of have an idea of what she's going through. It rubs off on me, to stay strong like her. I hope it rubs off on everyone else because she's so tough."
 
Joiner doesn't let the physical aspect of her position get in the way of making plays and contributing.
 
She is second on the team with 53 hits and fourth with a .301 batting average. Her slugging percentage of .517 is also fourth and she has drawn a team-high 46 walks for a .451 on-base percentage, second-best among UK players.
 
Her numbers with the glove are even better. Joiner has made 412 putouts, which broke the school record she set in 2012. She hasn't committed an error and has thrown out 12 of 32 base runners.
 
When it comes to handling the pitching staff, Joiner has been able to adjust to each of UK's four pitchers this season.
 
In addition to Nunley's 30 starts, senior Lauren Cumbess has started 18 times and made 21 appearances, while freshmen Meagan Prince has eight starts in 21 appearances and Shannon Smith has pitched in 13 contests with seven starts.
 
"She makes me a better pitcher just by the comments she makes to me before, during and after the game," Nunley said. "She always tries to keep me positive, get my mind on the right track and to me, she's the most important person on the team."
 
While Lawson calls each pitch from the dugout, it is Joiner who is responsible for talking to the pitcher and fielders during the game. Whether its to get on the same page or to provide a word of encouragement, Joiner makes frequent visits to the circle to talk with the pitcher during a game. 
 
Joiner's role as a captain and Lawson's background as a catcher put that much more pressure and responsibility on Joiner.
 
Lawson knows exactly what Joiner is going through, but that also intensifies the expectations. Especially since Lawson knows Joiner can handle the demands.
 
"It's the toughest position in college athletics, I think, because she happens to be my catcher and I'm pretty demanding on her," Lawson said. "She has to be mentally strong. She's also had to catch four completely different pitchers this year and she's able to give them all her best game. I think that says a lot about how intelligent she is and just how tough she is behind the plate."
 
For Joiner, Lawson's demands and expectations are just another aspect of the position, both as a catcher and as a captain. It's a relationship built on trust, and Joiner knows her coach knows what's best for her and her team.
 
"It's one of those things, you can't take it personally," Joiner said. "You have to take it and make the best of it. Find something within yourself that makes you have good results. I know she's been there and understands what its like and what it takes to be good. You just have to trust her."
 
While Joiner's mental and physical toughness has been something that has been built throughout her career as a catcher, Lawson has seen it in her since she first began recruiting the Hopkinsville, Ky., native.
 
Lawson went to see her play, and a throw from the infield went through Joiner's glove. At that point, she thought she wasn't going to recruit Joiner. Thankfully, she stayed until the end of the workout and saw the full story.
 
"After that outing, she came back and she had a big hole in her glove," Lawson recalled. "She had finished catching the entire workout before doing it so I knew when she did that and she buckled in and caught the ball with absolutely no pocket in her glove, I knew she was the right catcher for us."
 
Joiner's mental and physical toughness was apparent on that day, well before she arrived in Lexington, and it has gotten stronger years later, as UK prepares to make its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Super Regional.
 
With a team that prides itself on toughness, grit and the ability to bounce back easily, it's no wonder where a lot of that came from.
 
Look no further than the player wearing No. 13 behind the plate.

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