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WCWS notes: Nunley plan A for UK, but Cats confident in plan B

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Kelsey Nunley conducts a video interview with ESPN on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics -- photo used with permission from ESPN). Kelsey Nunley conducts a video interview with ESPN on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics -- photo used with permission from ESPN).
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Suffice it to say, Kelsey Nunley has been a workhorse these last two weeks.

In leading UK to its first ever Women's College World Series, Nunley has thrown all 48.1 innings of the Wildcats' seven NCAA Tournament games.

With how effective it's been, Lawson has little reason to deviate from her all-Nunley-all-the-time strategy.

"As long as she pitches well, she will pitch," Lawson said on the eve of UK's Oklahoma City opener against No. 6 Louisiana-Lafayette.

Nunley has certainly pitched well to this point. In allowing just six earned runs in NCAA play, the Soddy Daisy, Tenn., native has seen her earned-run average dip from 2.07 to 1.85 and her record move to 29-9.

The only concern, it would seem, is how Nunley's electric right arm is handling all the stress. The sophomore says she's doing just fine. In fact, responding to a question about how she feels, Nunley didn't even sound as if she thought there would be a reason for her to be tired.

"I feel good, especially with how we've been playing lately," Nunley said. "It gives me a ton of confidence when I know my team is behind me and we're producing a lot of runs. It lets me relax a little bit on the mound and it really gives me confidence."

The way she herself has performed doesn't hurt either.

Nunley has been a standout since she made her collegiate debut, but Lawson says she took her game to the next level starting at the Southeastern Conference Tournament earlier this month.

"When she went into the SEC Tournament, I felt like she really matured as a pitcher overnight. She was incredible," Lawson said. "She puts the ball exactly where she wants to put the ball. She doesn't shy away from much. She's very even-keeled. As those games continued to go and as she continued to masterfully put the ball and command where she wanted to, we continued to pitch her and pitch her."

The last time Nunley wasn't on the mound for UK was in the finals of the SEC Tournament. UK lost to Georgia in that game with freshman Meagan Prince and senior Lauren Cumbess on the mound, but Lawson is confident in her staff, which also includes freshman Shannon Smith.

"We actually have a very good pitching staff," Lawson said. "We've used all four of our pitchers all year and all four of our pitchers have gotten key wins against very good teams."

The importance of that given the nature of this week's double-elimination tournament cannot be overstated.

"I don't think that any team can win the World Series with one pitcher anymore," Lawson said. "I think that those days are probably over. I think that if we want to go deep in the tournament we are definitely going to have to go into our pitching staff."

True as that may be, it all starts with Nunley.

"She keeps her velocity up," Lawson said. "She's strong. She does what she needs to do. So as long as those things are happening, I imagine she'll get the ball."

ULL coach: Lawson didn't need WCWS to prove herself

Any time she has spoken publicly in the last 48 hours, Lawson has referred to reaching the Women's College World Series as "validation" of everything that has helped Kentucky become a softball power.

Lawson repeated the message again as she sat next to Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Michael Lotief at a joint press conference on Wednesday. Lotief, who knows Lawson well from coaching against her Western Kentucky teams in the Sun Belt Conference, took issue.

In his estimation, Lawson didn't need to reach this level to prove what kind of coach she is.

"The fact you get to take the final hurdle and get over it is a good thing," Lotief said, speaking directly to Lawson rather than the dozens of media members in attendance. "But you don't have to do that to be validated in my judgment."

Lotief, who has faced Lawson at UK in 2009 and 2012, has watched her program transform. The result has been three Super Regional trips in the last four seasons.

"What she's done the last (four) years should have given everybody an inkling that the culture at Kentucky has changed," Lotief said. "To finish in the finals of Super Regionals every year, I would take that as a successful year every year."

Barnhart 'one of the family'

After UK took down UCLA to advance to the Women's College World Series, Lawson admits she was surprised by just how much her phone "blew up" with calls, text messages and emails.

The call from Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, however, was no surprise.

"It's interesting because they're not out of the norm," Lawson said. "Mitch is always proud of his sports teams. He calls us after every big game."

Barnhart calls because he cares.

"He knows all the players," Lawson said. "He knows all of them not just by number, not just because they're players at Kentucky, but he knows them all as people. He's more like one of us. He's more like one of the family. Yes, he's the boss and he makes everything happen. But at the same time, he's been there every step of the way."

Bows no big deal

Wednesday's press conference with coaches from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana-Lafayette and Kentucky took somewhat of an unexpected turn.

A reporter asked the four coaches about how to balance between the fun players have on the field and the focus needed to compete at the highest level. The first three answered along the same lines, saying dugout cheers and face paint are what make softball unique as a sport and don't detract from the competitiveness of the game.

Lawson had a different take, specifically when it came to the bows players wear. Citing the beards many male athletes grow, she said sees no difference between baseball and softball players.

"You know they're spending as much time in that mirror checking out their beard and making sure it's long as the girls do with their bows," Lawson said. "Nobody can really tell me there's a difference between a big nasty beard and a bow. I think they're all accessories and it's really just what they're comfortable with."

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