With no matches to play, the Kentucky men's tennis team went to work.
Since they were ousted in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on April 19, the Wildcats have bounced between on-court training, intense conditioning and schoolwork.
"It was kind of weird," Tom Jomby said. "We haven't been playing for a while. So the past three weeks we've been grinding a lot, working on some doubles stuff with the coaches and we have five seniors so we all have to focus on school."
With the end of the semester coinciding with his team's week of preparation leading up the NCAA Tournament, Cedric Kauffmann admits he was concerned entering his team's first-round matchup with Denver on Friday.
"You're a little bit nervous after two-and-a-half weeks of not playing and exams through this week fell a little in a bad spot," Kauffmann said.
As play began against a Pioneer team that had only lost the doubles point three times all season, the anxiety intensified. UK and Denver battled through tight matches on all three courts, with the Cats winning on No. 1 and falling on No. 2. Attention then shifted to court three, where Ryuji Hirooka and Nils Ellefsen eked out an 8-6 win.
Close as the doubles point was, it proved to be just an opportunity for UK to shake off some rust.
"I don't think we played great in the doubles, but I think we--it was an hour of tennis for us to get back with the nerves," Kauffmann said. "I think it just carried through the singles. I think our singles was good."
That might be an understatement.
The Cats (22-9) won the opening set on all six courts, with Alejandro Gomez, Jomby and Beck Pennington winning in straight sets to clinch a 4-0 sweep of Denver (12-11) and a spot in the round of 32. Gomez and Jomby -- UK's top two singles players -- were dominant. Both won 6-1, 6-2.
Jomby particularly enjoyed his performance, as his parents made the trip from his native France to Lexington to watch him play for just the second time. The first time was two years ago, and Jomby lost both his singles and doubles matches against Baylor that day.
"When I could see my dad next to the court, it was really fun," Jomby said. "He was taking pictures of me and it's really nice having them here. It gives you extra motivation and it's so special to be able to play here in front of my parents and all of my friends in America when I'm from France."
Jomby made his singles win look easier than it was.
"Even if the singles didn't seem really tough for us, it was a tough match," Jomby said. "We had to keep our focus, we had to keep the momentum and it's not really easy when you win 6-1 to stay focused in the second set."
The Cats will now look to duplicate that focus at 3 p.m. on Saturday, when they host Clemson (21-8). The Tigers handled Purdue earlier on Friday, 4-1, and were in contention to host an NCAA regional until the season's last match.
"Can they beat us?" Kauffmann said. "Yeah, if we don't come to play. If one or two of our players doesn't show up, it's going to be tough. But I think we'll show up tomorrow."
Kauffmann means that figuratively, but he'll also spend some time watching the door before the match to make sure Jomby shows up literally.
Jomby -- one singles victory shy of joining the prestigious 100-win club -- will walk across the stage and receive his degree at commencement at 1 p.m. on Saturday. He expects to finish by 1:30, race to the Boone Tennis Center and arrive by 1:45 on a day he's not likely to soon forget.
"I'll be wearing my cap and gown probably when I get here, but I'll go straight to the locker room," Jomby said. "It'll be funny."
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- For the first time in program history, the Kentucky softball team is headed to the SEC Tournament Semifinals, and for a second consecutive game, it was sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley leading the charge.
A day after a nine-inning, walk-off win over Mississippi State, the seventh-seeded Wildcats faced No. 2 seed Tennessee. UK squeaked out a 2-0 win over the Lady Vols in a pitcher's duel in the semifinal contest.
"I thought today was a good day for us," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "It was a great day on the mound for both pitchers. It was a real pitcher's duel and I felt pretty lucky to be on the winning end of it."
Nunley was once again a force in the circle for the Wildcats. She pitched a complete-game shutout to earn the win after throwing 142 pitches in Wednesday's victory. The shutout was Nunley's career-best sixth of the year, tied for the third most in a season in program history.
The Lady Vols were held scoreless for just the second time this season. Only 13 times have they been limited to five hits or fewer.
"I think Coach Lawson really did a good job at calling pitches and keeping Tennessee off balance," Nunley said. "Making them guess at what I was throwing and I think it really worked."
The sophomore showed no signs of wearing down in a second consecutive game with temperatures near 100 degrees. Nunley allowed just five hits and worked quickly. She gave up one extra-base hit -- a leadoff double in the fourth -- but proceeded to strike out the next three UT batters.
Nunley was making quick work of UT until the seventh inning. With two outs and the bases empty, Tennessee tallied back-to-back hits followed by a UK fielding error to load the bases. That's when leadoff hitter Haley Tobler came to the plate.
Tobler worked the count full, and on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Nunley threw a changeup. Tobler's bat never left her shoulder, and with that, the final three of UT's seven base runners were stranded, the winning run on first base.
"When you look at it, [Madison] Shipman was on deck so it was going to be the end of the game either way," Lawson said of the pitch selection to Tobler. "Either Kelsey was going to look really good throwing a strikeout or Shipman was going to look really good hitting a grand slam. Whichever way you look at it, I felt like it was a win-win situation for us. It may have seemed pretty gutsy to everyone else but it felt like a no-brainer to me so either way it was made for TV."
Nunley's changeup was working all game long and helped her to seven strikeouts. Tennessee, one of the conference's best hitting teams, was never able to adjust.
The second win of the tournament for Nunley now gives her five postseason wins in less than two seasons, tied for the most in school history.
"She's awesome, she works so hard and she did great today," senior Emily Gaines said. "I'm so proud of her. It was really hot out and she was just mowing them down. She was awesome."
On the other side, Tennessee pitcher Ellen Renfroe was nearly as effective, but not quite enough. She limited the Wildcats to seven hits and left eight UK runners on base.
It was single runs in the fourth and fifth inning though that gave Nunley all the cushion she needed to send Kentucky to the semifinals.
Gaines got the offense going in the fourth with a single, the only hit of the inning. Sophomore Maisie Steed went in as a pinch runner, advanced to second on a passed ball and was bunted to third. An Emily Jolly groundout scored the speedy sophomore to give the Wildcats a 1-0 advantage.
An inning later, it was South Carolina native Christian Stokes who sent a smash over the left field fence for a valuable insurance run. Stokes, who is 6-for-8 in the tournament, also had a homer to lead off Wednesday's game.
With two tournament wins and a semifinal berth secured, the history has been made for Kentucky. But with this team, they have no reason to stop now. They'll have another chance to make more history against sixth-seeded LSU on Friday. First pitch between the Wildcats and Tigers is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
Jodie Meeks will participate in UK's commencement ceremonies on Saturday. (UK Athletics)
Five years ago now, Jodie Meeks decided to forgo his final season of collegiate eligibility and enter the NBA Draft.
Kentucky fans, of course, would always have a special affinity for the sweet-shooting All-American guard, but they likely figured his days in Lexington -- save for an occasional visit -- were done.
Instead, Meeks has returned to campus every summer to attend classes. In that time, he's had more than his share of interactions with students surprised to the NBA millionaire lugging around a backpack.
"They usually recognize me right off the bat," Meeks said. "They look at me like what am I doing here. So I just look at them the same way. It's always fun. It's always fun seeing people's reactions. I'm a regular person just like them so when I'm trying to get my degree I just ask them, 'What are you doing here? I'm doing the same thing.' "
On Saturday, he'll don a cap and gown and realize that goal.
Meeks will be among 60 current and former UK student-athletes who will participate in commencement ceremonies, following the 30 who did the same in December. He still has a class to finish up this summer, but he will take a walk on Saturday that's been eight years in the making with his family in attendance.
As soon as he decided to declare for the draft, Meeks committed to complete his coursework and graduate. Even as his NBA career has blossomed and taken him from Milwaukee to Philadelphia to Los Angeles, Meeks has remained true to that commitment and will finally earn that degree in business marketing.
"Once I get my mind set on something, I usually do it 99 percent of the time," said Meeks, who memorably set UK's single-game scoring record with 54 points against Tennessee. "When I left school early -- I wasn't sure that I would leave early - but when I did, I made a commitment to myself and my family that I would do it. It just feels good to have it done now and just finally be done Saturday."
Well established as a professional after a career season with the Lakers, Meeks is likely to sign a lucrative deal this summer. Nonetheless, the degree he is about to receive gives him a sense of security no contract ever could.
"One thing I don't do in basketball but especially in life is take things for granted," Meeks said. "You never know how long your career will last, but once you have a degree, you can have it forever. You can do a lot of stuff with my degree. Once I get out of playing basketball I'll be able to do that."
Before then, Meeks has free agency to think about.
He just finished the final season of a two-year deal with the Lakers, posting career highs in scoring (15.7 points per game), rebounds (2.5), assists (1.8), steals (1.4), field-goal percentage (.463) and 3-point percentage (40.1). Meeks called the season "bittersweet" since the Lakers finished well outside the playoff picture with a record of 27-55, but there's mistaking the fact that his big season has given him options.
He'll start thinking about them later.
"It's still early," Meeks said. "It's only May, so I'm not officially allowed to talk to anyone until July. So right now just focusing on this last class and this degree and I'll think about basketball in July and August, September and things like that. But I should be in a pretty good situation. I had a pretty good year, put myself in a good predicament for next year. So just have to make the best decision for myself."
That's exactly what Meeks did when he declared for the draft in 2009. He never second-guessed his decision -- and why would he considering where he is today? -- but admits the what-if scenarios UK fans so often play out when they think about the 2009-10 season do cross his mind.
That team -- John Calipari's first at Kentucky -- was one of the most talented in recent college basketball memory. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe manned the backcourt, while DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson patrolled the paint. Along with those four established NBA players, the Cats had future draft picks Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller.
Perimeter shooting ultimately felled that group, as the Cats shot just 4 of 32 from 3 in a 73-66 Elite Eight loss. It's difficult to imagine West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone working nearly so well with Jodie Meeks -- who hit 117 3s in a record-setting junior season -- on the floor.
"I think about that too," Meeks said. "I don't think we would have lost a game, in my opinion. It would have been a fun team. Sometimes I think, 'What if I'd have stayed, would my life have been different here?' But I felt like it was the best decision for myself."
Things have worked out OK for Kentucky too.
As Meeks has flourished in the NBA, Calipari has led UK to three Final Four berths in the last four seasons, including a national title in 2012 and another trip to the championship game in April.
Meeks liked the idea of playing for a coach he missed by a season in Lexington, but it's hard for him to understand why Calipari would ever leave.
"I was excited maybe that he could coach me, but if I was him I wouldn't leave here," Meeks said. "You know, it's a great place to coach and play. He has it made here, you know. So that would be up to him, but I wouldn't go anywhere."
Makes sense, especially since Meeks keeps coming back.
Senior Tom Jomby will lead No. 15 overall seed Kentucky into a first-round matchup with Denver on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Ever since the 2013 season ended in the Sweet 16, the Kentucky men's tennis team has worked toward this point.
The Wildcats practiced and played for the right to host the first two rounds NCAA Tournament, ultimately realizing their goal when they were awarded the No. 15 overall seed.
Now set to open their NCAA run, the Cats plan to put the home-court edge they wanted so badly to good use.
"It helps us a lot," said senior Tom Jomby, who will be playing his final collegiate matches at the Boone Tennis Center. "When we have the momentum in here, I feel like we're really tough to beat. It's a big advantage so we're going to use it."
Of course, facing fourth-seeded Denver (12-10) in front of home fans at 3 p.m. ET on Friday will be a boost for UK. That's not the only way playing in Lexington helps.
"It's always better," head coach Cedric Kauffmann said. "Sleeping in your own bed, we know where to eat, we know our routines, we play in front of our fans and I think that helps us. I think this is a team that loves to play in front of people. We like it. We love to play in Lexington. You can see it in our record."
UK is 21-9 overall on the season, boasting a 15-3 record on its home court and 6-6 everywhere else. The Cats have home wins over No. 1 Ohio State, No. 8 Texas A&M, No. 17 Mississippi State and No. 21 Vanderbilt, a clear sign of the team's potential to make a deep tournament run.
The Cats will take the confidence built in those victories into the postseason and balance that with reminders of what can happen when they're not on their game. Barely a month ago, UK lost to an Alabama team that failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
"We said that in the locker room and I also said that we've lost to teams outside the (top) 30," Kauffmann said. "We lost to Alabama on the road. We know what we can do and we also know what we cannot do."
Just as the Cats must guard against another such performance, they must be sure to not rely too heavily on their home court. When doubles play begins on Friday, UK will just be playing tennis.
"We know that doesn't mean much, really," Kauffmann said. "It just makes us play on our home court and three teams are going to try to take us out."
Denver will be the first team to take a shot at UK and Clemson or Purdue will follow, should the Cats advance. The Pioneers will look to duplicate their first-round performance of a year ago when they won their first-ever NCAA Tournament match on the road at No. 15 Florida.
"I know Denver is a really good team," Jomby said. "They beat Florida in the first round last year, so we're extremely into the process to get ready."
The Cats have had to tweak their approach a bit this season, as finals week has coincided with their week to prepare for the tournament. The result has been, in Kauffmann's estimation, a "good, not great" set of practices, though he is unconcerned about his team being ready to play come Friday.
Whether UK will play inside or out is the next question. With rain in the forecast on both Friday and Saturday, there stands a chance that matches could be moved inside.
"I think we are ready for both," Kauffmann said. "I'll tell players, 'Make sure you don't want to play in or out because if that doesn't work out, mentally I think you're not going to be ready.' "
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A trademark of the 2014 Kentucky softball team has been its ability to bounce back and never give up. That was never more apparent than in its 4-3, nine-inning win over Mississippi State in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday.
The never-say-die attitude has fueled UK to a perfect 7-0 record in extra inning contests, but the most recent win meant just a little bit more than the previous six.
The victory -- the Wildcats' first in the SEC Tournament since 2008 -- gave them a school-record 42 wins on the season.
Wednesday, it was sophomore Nikki Sagermann with a walk-off hit in the ninth inning after Kentucky lost a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning.
"That's one thing about our team, we don't give up," Sagermann said. "We're known for that. If we get behind, we're going to do anything we can to come back and have a good game. I was pretty confident actually. Our top of the lineup was coming through, I was confident we were still going to win, I wasn't worried too much."
UK jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in the first inning and sophomore right-hander Kelsey Nunley was dealing in the circle through the first five frames. Four outs away from a win, the Wildcats gave up three two-out runs in the sixth to let MSU tie the game.
The game was tied, and the UK offense had scored just one run since it chased starter Alison Owen in the first inning, but the confidence never wavered. The philosophy was simply to not give up.
The patience paid off in the ninth when a trio of sophomores, facing Mississippi State relief pitcher Alexis Silkwood for the fourth time, came through. Ansley Smith led off with a walk and sophomore Christian Stokes doubled her to third. After Sylver Samuel fouled out, Nikki Sagermann stepped to the plate in a situation she loves.
"I was pretty excited when I came up," Sagermann said. "I was seeing the ball pretty well. I know I was only 1-for-3 before it, but especially with one out and a runner on third, I knew I had to get it through the infield, a sacrifice fly or a base hit. I love situations like that. I was ready."
Sagermann sent a liner into center to give the Wildcats the win and set up a quarterfinal matchup with rival Tennessee on Thursday.
After the Bulldogs tied the game in the sixth, they had multiple chances to score the go-ahead run in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Seven of MSU's 12 runners left on base came in the final three frames.
Mississippi State had runners on second and third in the seventh, first and second with one out in the eighth and the bases loaded with two down in the ninth. Nunley and the UK defense did not allow a single runner to score.
"Just keep fighting," Nunley said of her mentality in the circle with runners on base. "They're going to get on. They're a good hitting team, they're going to find ways to get on. I had to just keep on battling, keep throwing hard."
Nunley kept battling. Even after she hit six batters in the final three innings, she kept battling and got those clutch outs. The righty threw 142 pitches, and while she might have had her best stuff in the first five innings, her ability to get the clutch out in the late innings was most important.
"My team told me they had my back," Nunley said. "I knew to just go out there and no matter what happened, just give it all I had and my team would be behind me. That's what I did."
Clutch pitching, timely hitting and a never-say-die attitude were the keys Wednesday. Thursday, it will take that and more to top second-seeded Tennessee. The seventh-seeded Wildcats have never advanced to the SEC Tournament's semifinals, but that won't stop this year's team from believing.
In a season of record-breaking wins and firsts, there's no time like the present to add another note to the long list of accomplishments for the 2014 season and the senior class. Especially for a team that will never give up.
J.B. Holmes has faced a seemingly never-ending trail of challenges over the past three years.
First he had two brain surgeries in 2011 to relieve pressure caused by a Chiari malformation. Later, he broke his ankle in a roller-blading accident, using the time off to undergo surgery on an elbow injury sustained in a rush to return to the course.
The UK alumnus, however, persevered. On Sunday he was rewarded with his first PGA Tour win since 2008.
Holmes shot a final-round 1-under-par 71 and finished at 14-under, one shot ahead of Jim Furyk to claim the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C.
As you'd expect with a story as remarkable as this one, plenty of people are talking about Holmes. Here are a few of the best stories:
Dr. James Jagger was named the SEC Team Physician of the Year in December. (UK Athletics)
For the second consecutive year, the University of Kentucky is home to the Southeastern Conference Team Physician of the Year. A year after Dr. Darren Johnson earned the prestigious honor, Dr. James Jagger joins the club.
Dr. Jagger is an assistant professor in the UK Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, while also serving as the UK chief of athletic medicine and head team physician for all UK sports. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Jagger is in his 14th year at Kentucky and has been a vital asset to the UK sports teams.
The Team Physician of the Year award is chosen by the athletic training staffs at SEC member institutions and is given annually to recognize a team physician who has contributed greatly to both his or her school's teams and to the SEC sports community. Jagger received the award this week at the annual SEC Sports Medicine Conference held in Opelika, Ala.
"It means a lot because they're the most important people we have," said Dr. Jagger about the league's athletic trainers. "They bridge the gap between us and the athletes and coaches and we can't do our job without the athletic trainers. To be recognized by the athletic trainers is really an honor."
After the award was created in 2003, Dr. Jagger's award this year makes back-to-back wins for UK physicians, following Dr. Johnson, chair of the UK Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, and head orthopaedic surgeon for UK Athletics.
"To have our physicians win back-to-back awards is extremely representative of the care that's being rendered to our student-athletes in all the sports, as both physicians tend to more sports than the high-profiled sports," said Jim Madaleno, who is the director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer at Kentucky. "Our student-athletes are getting excellent care and this award speaks for that."
Two UK athletes witnessed firsthand how lucky the university is to have Dr. Jagger on board. Caitlyn Ciokajlo, a former UK gymnast, and senior men's basketball guard Jon Hood, have both spent their fair share of time in Dr. Jagger's care.
Hood went through knee and head injuries during his time at UK, while Ciokajlo suffered from a broken neck that sidelined her for a season.
"Dr. Jagger has provided treatment and guidance over my long college career, assisting me in getting back to the playing surface as quickly as possible," Hood said. "He is an outstanding role model, physician and overall human being."
Ciokajlo and Hood had nothing but praise for Dr. Jagger as the two athletes endured setbacks that tested their spirits both physically and mentally.
"I'm grateful to have gotten to work with Dr. Jagger while recovering from my injury," Ciokajlo said. "His care and support were very appreciated during a time when I very much needed it and I'm honored to have gotten to work with such a compassionate doctor."
Madaleno described Dr. Jagger as being an extremely warm and cordial person that exudes an extremely professional atmosphere. He is more than just a doctor to the athletes, as students are encouraged to express any problems they might be having, on and off the court.
"Dr. Jagger presents a real warm atmosphere where he's very approachable should the athlete have any concerns," Madaleno said. "And they know that. He has the calming effect on each of them that everything's going to be OK. Let's work out a plan and figure out what's causing the problem."
Dr. Jagger has provided care and support to many athletes during his tenure and there will most certainly be more.
"This is coming into my 14th year here at Kentucky and I never in my wildest dreams thought I would win it at this point in my career or ever perhaps," Dr. Jagger said. "I've worked with just unbelievably great student-athletes over the last 14 years and they make my job easy too."
You've known about the launch of the new network, which will cover America's best sports conference in unprecedented fashion, for months now, but it became just a little more real on Thursday.
The SEC Network announced its television schedule for the first three weeks of the 2014 football season and Kentucky will be featured twice. The Wildcats will play two of their first three games on the SEC Network, hosting Tennessee-Martin for their season opener on Aug. 30 at noon ET and traveling to face Florida on Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET for both teams' SEC opener.
This is significant because the SEC Network will be the only place fans will be able to watch these two games, other than in person. So far, cable and satellite providers AT&T U-Verse, DISH, Google Fiber and National Rural Telecommunications cooperative (NRTC) have agreed to carry the SEC Network. If your provider has not yet signed on, visit GetSECNetwork.com to demand the SEC Network.
UK isn't the only SEC school that will play early-season games on the SEC Network. In fact, the SEC Network will air a home game for each of the league's 14 schools within the first four weeks of the season.
"The fact that the SEC Network will originate a game from every stadium in the conference in the first four weeks of the 2014 season is testament to the depth of coverage fans can expect from the network," said Mike Slive, SEC commissioner. "In just the first month of the season, fans that get the network will enjoy all the passion and pageantry of SEC football from 14 of the greatest venues in the world of sports. This is what the SEC Network is all about."
The SEC Network -- which launches on Aug. 14 -- will carry its first football games on the season's first night, with Texas A&M and South Carolina and Vanderbilt and Temple playing a doubleheader. In total, six games will air on the SEC Network in each of the season's first two weeks and three more in both weeks three and four.
"The network will have a terrific line-up of games over the first four weeks. The schedule includes quality and depth from across the conference," said Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president, college networks. "The full breadth of teams and stadiums showcased in the first month alone speaks volumes on the type of programming sports fans should expect on the SEC Network."
The complete SEC Network schedule for the first four weeks of the season can be found below. Kickoff times and television information for the remainder of SEC games will be announced later.
2014 SEC College Football Schedule (subject to
It was dubbed "Big Blue Weekend," and a big weekend it was for the Big Blue Nation.
In the span of 44 hours, UK baseball hosted Ole Miss, the UK softball team hosted Tennessee in addition to the annual Blue-White spring football game.
Fourty-four hours, seven games and 46,883 total fans. On a beautiful weekend in the bluegrass, Commonwealth Stadium, John Cropp Stadium and Cliff Hagan Stadium were the places to be.
The spring game attendance was 35,117. It was the second-largest crowd in program history behind last season's, when over 50,000 watched UK's annual spring scrimmage. As No. 9 softball took on No. 8 Tennessee in a top-10 matchup, 4,664 fans filled John Cropp Stadium, the largest crowd for a three-game series in program history.
Big Blue Nation did not disappoint this weekend and came out in droves to support their team as only they could.
After the baseball and softball teams opened the weekend on Friday night, the party hit its peak on Saturday with a jam-packed day.
Head football coach Mark Stoops got things started when he threw out the first pitch at the baseball game in front of 2,474 fans. Each of the baseball team's three games drew at least 2,200 fans.
As the football team arrived at Commonwealth Stadium, players and coaches were greeted by fans, forming the Catwalk into the stadium. The energy and sheer numbers from the Big Blue Nation for Saturday's Catwalk were like those seen on Saturdays in the fall, not in the spring.
"Great turnout today," assistant coach Neal Brown said. "Our Catwalk was tremendous. It was like an in-season Catwalk today. They were lined--it was backed up and then the crowd in the game was terrific. That shows people, that shows recruits that people are serious about football here and we are very thankful. I want to make sure that I thank the fans."
The parking lots surrounding Commonwealth Stadium were a sea of blue hours before kickoff. Food on the grill, music blaring and footballs flying through the air made it seem like a typical fall Saturday. All that was missing was a chill in the air and some color in the leaves.
Once inside the stadium, 35,117 fans watched as the Blue team beat the White squad, 38-14. Not only was it the second-largest spring game crowd in UK history, but it was the 12th-best crowd in the country this spring and seventh in the SEC.
UK is one of just 16 schools to draw 30,000 fans or more this spring.
As the football game was winding down, the softball team's second game of its series with Tennessee was beginning, with another big crowd on hand.
The second-largest crowd in program history, 1,858 saw the Wildcats beat their SEC rivals, 5-2, to even the three-game series. The sold-out crowd came a day before the Big Blue Nation packed in 1,685 Sunday on Senior Day for a second consecutive sellout.
"The fan base was incredible this weekend and especially today on Senior Day for them to come pack this place was awesome," softball head coach Rachel Lawson said. "Saturday the fan support really helped push us over the edge. I love the Big Blue Nation and everything they do for our athletic department."
1,685 at John Cropp Stadium today, taking the weekend total to 4,664 fans - which is a program record for a three-game series! Thanks, #BBN!
While Big Blue Weekend officially is complete, there is still plenty of action left in the 2014 season for UK's spring sports at home.
The baseball team hosts Auburn on Senior Weekend May 9-11, while the men's tennis team is expected to host the NCAA Regionals, May 9-10.
The following weekend, the SEC Track and Field Championships come to Lexington May 15-18. Should the softball team host the NCAA Regional for the second consecutive season, that will be held at John Cropp Stadium May 15-18.
A strong pitching performance by both senior Lauren Cumbess and freshman Meagan Prince led the way for the ninth-ranked UK softball team in a 5-2 win over No. 8 Tennessee Saturday.
Four innings from Cumbess, in which she allowed two runs on five hits and left with the score tied at 2-2, were followed by three scoreless innings from Prince.
Cumbess was pitching well, but head coach Rachel Lawson made the decision to bring in Prince was made before the game started.
"Lauren was doing a good job, but we thought the change of speed was needed because they were coming up a third time in the order," Lawson said. "We just thought, because Tennessee is such an awesome hitting team, that it made sense to give them a change in pace and speed. That was actually planned from the get-go."
The pitching change paid off in a big way. Prince came in and allowed just three hits in the final three innings. The freshman struck out four and walked no one.
It was a strong sixth inning, striking out the side, which gave Lawson the confidence to send Prince out to finish the game in the seventh.
"When Meagan came out in the sixth inning she was just awesome," Lawson said. "She was throwing the ball hard and it was breaking. They even knew what pitch was coming and they had trouble squaring up on the ball. It didn't make a lot of sense to take her out in the seventh. I felt like today was her day. She came out and capitalized against the top of the order, which is very good, in the top of the seventh."
Prince's outing gave her her second win in SEC play, both against ranked opponents. The win came after she struggled Sunday in a loss to Arkansas and Tuesday at Western Kentucky.
The Martin, Tenn., native rebounded in a big way.
"I just felt like all my work had paid off," Prince said. "I had a list of things I had to get better on and work on in practice. I got a few of those things accomplished, and I felt like it paid off."
The pitching staff is a close-knit group, and Cumbess couldn't have been happier to see the freshman come in and finish the game on a strong note and get the win.
"She and I always talk about how the pitching staff always has each other's backs," Cumbess said. "Whenever she comes in, we are always so confident that they are going to get the job done. She goes out there and throws hard, trusts her pitches and she just did great today. We're so happy for her."
The two-run performance by the pitching duo marked just the seventh time in 47 games the Lady Volunteers had been limited to two or fewer runs. Only two other SEC teams have held UT to two or fewer runs.
After a tough loss in the series-opener on Friday, in which the pitching staff allowed one earned run, Saturday was a nice bounce-back on all accounts.
A home run from Cumbess in the fifth, her eighth of the season, certainly helped.
"Our goal today was to play solid defense, hit the ball well and have a great performance on the mound," Cumbess said. "Meagan did great coming in. Defensively, I think we were also very solid. We met our goal today."
The win kept the Wildcats tied for second in the SEC with a 13-7 record. Sunday, the two teams will square off for the series win and to help break the tie in the league standings.
First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET at John Cropp Stadium.