Head coach Rachel Lawson recorded her school-record 182nd career victory in the Wildcats' 6-2 win over Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
This weekend will mark a monumental moment for the Kentucky softball program. Not only do the Wildcats welcome the third-ranked Florida Gators, but the Grand Opening Ceremony of the newly renovated UK Softball Complex is set to precede Saturday's 1 p.m. ET game.
Gates will open at 11:30 a.m. with pregame festivities slated to begin at 11:45. Athletic's Director Mitch Barnhart, head coach Rachel Lawson and select others will be speaking to officially open the new stadium.
Six years ago Barnhart hired Lawson as UK's new softball coach. Since Lawson's arrival, the program has made major strides and now the athletic department is rewarding the hard work of the coaches and players by providing them a brand-new playing atmosphere.
This is a big moment in UK softball history and Lawson is the first to recognize who is responsible for it all and give thanks.
"First you have to thank the Big Blue Nation," Lawson said. "If we didn't have the fan support and the financial support you would never see an amazing stadium like this going up. You have to thank everybody who works so hard in the athletic department to make these things possible."
Of course Lawson wouldn't be a part of this weekend's celebration had she not been hired back in July 2007. It was Barnhart's decision, but there was another member of the athletic department who played a key role in the process.
"You have to thank Mitch but you have to thank (associate athletic's director) John Cropp for hiring me," Lawson said. "Mitch ultimately made the decision but Coach Cropp was the one that went out and believed in me."
On Wednesday, the Wildcats traveled to Frankfort, Ky., to compete in a doubleheader against Eastern Kentucky. UK took the opener 6-2, giving Lawson her school-record 182nd career victory.
Lawson, who is humbled by the whole experience, is always striving for more and is looking for ways she can improve the program.
However, she did take a moment after to sit back and take it all in.
"It's really cool," Lawson said. "You never stop and think about what you accomplish you only keep moving forward. It was a brief moment in time where I got to stop and I got to think about all the people that helped me get here."
Associate head coach Kristine Himes has been with Lawson since day one at UK and Lawson says she wouldn't be where she is today without her. Lawson also took time to thank the athletic department and all the players that helped rack up the record amount of victories.
A few minutes was enough time for Lawson to think about breaking the record as she quickly turned her focus back to the future goals of the program.
"That's a cool moment, with that said I know we all want a national championship," Lawson said. "While the wins are incredible and it's good to get to that point, it will be even better when we move forward. Every team at Kentucky, our goal should be to win the SEC and to win national championships, that's what we all do. Once you get there and you have one, you're going to want another and another."
Fans should be in for a treat this weekend with the Gators coming into town. Florida is an impressive 39-4 on the season and 12-3 in conference play, but the Cats are having a tremendous season themselves and have no reason to back down.
With the 18th-ranked Wildcats sitting at 8-4 in SEC play, a series win over the Gators would give them loads of confidence heading forward. Lawson knows her Wildcats have a huge challenge in front of them but also realizes it's a great opportunity for them to make a statement.
"It's going to be quite a challenge," Lawson said. "With that said, us and Florida are usually good games. They are usually played hard and played clean and usually they are good television games. Hopefully that will continue this weekend and we can get some wins."
When Lawson was brought in to lead the Wildcats back in '07, one of the things on the top of the athletic department's list was to build the softball team a new facility. The opening of the stadium hasn't been a major shock for Lawson, however the dedication and pace that everything has come together has really taken the sixth-year head coach by surprise.
"I knew it would be coming but for it to be coming so soon and in such a huge fashion has been such a huge surprise for me," Lawson said. "Everything that we have asked for is actually happening. They have gone top rate with everything in here. It's going to one of the best if not the best facility in the country."
You better throw all your Kentucky gear in the laundry right now, because you're going to need every clean piece of blue clothing you can find.
This weekend, the UK campus will be buzzing with activity, highlighted by the Blue/White Spring Game at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday. But that's far from the only opportunity fans will have to cheer on the Wildcats this weekend. With upwards of 10 events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday across five different sports, it's going to be a Big Blue Weekend.
Let's take a look at your options (all times Eastern):
There's a fair bit of overlap here, but you can make it to doubles play and at least the start of singles at the tennis match before making a short trek north or south to baseball or softball.
Saturday, April 13 (Forecast: Sunny with a high of 57 degrees, zero percent chance of rain) 11:30 a.m. - UK Softball Complex grand opening 1 p.m. - Softball vs. No. 3 Florida (UK Softball Complex) 2 p.m. - Baseball vs. Tennessee (Cliff Hagan Stadium) 4 p.m. - Wildcat Refuge opens (Gate 9 of Commonwealth Stadium) 5 p.m. - Men's soccer spring game vs. Lipscomb (UK Soccer Complex) 5 p.m. - Alumni Association tailgate (Commonwealth Stadium Red Lot, near Gate 4) 5:15 p.m. - Cat Walk (Gate 1 of Commonwealth Stadium) 7 p.m. - Blue/White Spring Game (Commonwealth Stadium)
Does that give you enough to do on a Saturday?
No matter what, start your day at the grand opening of the UK Softball Complex at 11:30 a.m. Refreshments will be available and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and head coach Rachel Lawson will speak at the ceremony. From there, you can either stick around for the softball game, head to baseball or some combination of the two.
The baseball game still figures to be going on when pre-spring game festivities begin, but you should have plenty of time to tailgate and maybe even make it to the Cat Walk if you stick around for the end of the game at Cliff Hagan. Gates open at Commonwealth at 6 p.m.
All parking for the spring game is free. A portion of the Green Lot will be reserved, but the remainder is available on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition, a shuttle will be available for those wishing to park at Commonwealth and receive transportation to Keeneland and back to the stadium. For complete information on the spring game, visit our Gameday Central page.
Ginny Carroll's walk-off bases loaded single in the bottom of the seventh, led the Cats to a 4-3 victory over Marshall on Tuesday. (Brittany McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It's been a characteristic of the University of Kentucky softball team's 2013 success. And the Wildcats showed off just how tough they are once again Tuesday evening with a bases-loaded walk-off single from junior outfielder Ginny Carroll to earn a 4-3 victory over a pesky Marshall team at the UK Softball Complex.
"It was awesome," Carroll said. "That's one thing Coach (Rachel Lawson) has been getting
on us about is being tough. I think we really showed it tonight and
didn't give up."
UK came back twice in the game, scoring a run in the bottom of the fourth to tie the contest at 1-all and plating three in the bottom of the seventh to win after the Thundering Herd took a 3-1 advantage in the top of the final frame.
The game looked as though it may have been decided after Marshall took a two-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh and senior hurler Andi Williamson dealing a gem. However, the Cats used a never-say-die mentality with the help of a couple Marshall errors and key hits, including the game-winner from Carroll to come out on top.
Carroll struggled in her first three at-bats but saved her best for last. The Hendersonville, Tenn., native says Lawson tells the Cats in practice that she doesn't care if they only get one hit, so long as they contribute and are doing their jobs.
She certainly did her job on Tuesday and with the pressure on. The Wildcats had one out in the inning with the bags packed, a full count on Carroll and the score tied at three.
Carroll's plan at the plate on the last pitch was simple.
"Since it was a full count I was just looking to protect," Carroll said. "Go after anything I could drive and then let it go if it was a ball. She was a great pitcher and we did a good job of hanging tough with her."
Marshall came into the evening sporting a 25-13 record and having won 15 of its last 16 contests. The Herd featured Williamson in the circle, who leads the country in strike outs and innings pitched and an offense that leads the Conference USA.
Head coach Rachel Lawson was pleased overall with her team's performance. She knows they didn't play their best game of the year but saw something out of her Wildcats that she has seen all season.
That word again. Tough.
"Obviously, the seventh inning we showed how tough we were and that has been a theme for us throughout the entire year," Lawson said. "I thought (Kelsey) Nunley had a good performance on the mound again. I think there were some things we could have done better but Marshall is a really good team. They are one of the best teams in the Conference USA and the best offensive team and for Nunley to keep them down was big for us."
With the victory, head coach Rachel Lawson tied the UK record with her 181st win at Kentucky. In just her sixth season, Lawson has taken the program to new heights and has the 28-10 Wildcats off to one of the best starts in history.
Kentucky travels to Frankfort, Ky., on Wednesday for a twin bill against in state foe Eastern Kentucky. Tomorrow will be a golden opportunity for Lawson to break the school's wins record, but the sixth-year head coach has bigger goals on her mind for this year and the future of the softball program.
"My goal is always to win softball games," Lawson said. "I don't really know that much about the records and such here. Our goal is to get to the (Women's College) World Series so that means we have to continue to win to do it and hopefully my teams will break a lot of records here over the years."
Women's basketball - The 2012-13 season was the most successful in program history with school records of 30 wins and eight victories over top-25 opponents. The Wildcats tied a school-record with 13 Southeastern Conference wins and advanced to their school-record fourth Elite Eight in the last four years, including second straight. - UK has charted 25 or more wins in a school-record four straight seasons. - Seniors A'dia Mathies and Brittany Henderson leave as the winningest class in UK Hoops history with a 111-30 record (.787). - Mathies ends her career as UK's all-time leader in steals (320), games played (140) and started (139), while ranking second in scoring (2,014), 3-point field goals made (177) and field goals attempted (1,687), third in field goals made (712), free throws made (413) and attempted (590) and ninth in assists (349).
Gymnastics - The Kentucky gymnastics team posted the program's highest-ever NCAA Regional team score with a 195.575 on Saturday. - Kentucky finished in fourth-place overall just .45 outside of second position. - Audrey Harrison finished in a tie for third for the individual all-around title with a score of 39.2, but tied for the highest AA score among competitors not on a team advancing to regionals. - Alexis Gross earned a career-high all-around score 39.05, in her first meet competing in all four events during a single meet this season. Softball - The Kentucky softball team finished a 3-1 week with a sweep over Southeastern Conference foe South Carolina over the weekend, moving its SEC winning streak to a school-record tying six games. The streak began with a sweep of Mississippi State a few weeks ago. - True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley led Kentucky over the weekend with a 2-0 record and a 2.50 ERA. Nunley is an impressive 17-4 on the year with a 2.09 ERA with her 17 wins moving her into a tie for fourth on UK's single-season wins list with Morgan Marr, who had 17 in 2001. Nunley is the first UK pitcher to post 17 or more wins in a season since Chanda Bell had 18 in 2010. Junior Lauren Cumbess went 1-0 on the weekend, clinching the sweep with a strong seven-inning performance on Sunday, allowing three runs on seven hits with four strikeouts. Cumbess led UK at the dish over the weekend by going 5-for-10 with a double, two home runs and four RBI. - Cumbess tied the game Saturday with a two-run homer and tied Sunday's game with an RBI single. Freshman Nikki Sagermann also went 5-for-10 with a double and home run, while junior Ginny Carroll, senior Alice O'Brien and freshman Christian Stokes also hit home runs. Sophomore Griffin Joiner had three hits and three RBI.
Baseball - Kentucky suffered its first series loss of the year at the blistering-hot Tigers, previously owning series wins over Florida, No. 14 Mississippi State and Georgia. - UK earned a thrilling 5-4 win over No. 9 Louisville in 10 innings in front of a UL school-record crowd, with freshman Kyle Cody turning in a quality start and freshman Kyle Barrett driving in the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th. - Freshman Kyle Barrett drove in the game-winning RBI against Louisville in the top of the 10th inning, completing the dramatic late inning comeback. - UK has been led offensively by junior J.T. Riddle, who has hit .322 with six doubles, one triple, one homer and 17 RBI, stealing five bases. Sophomore A.J. Reed has belted eight homers and has 33 RBI, batting .319.
Men's tennis - Kentucky dropped the first match of its three-match road trip to conclude the regular season at No. 14 Vanderbilt, 4-2. - Kentucky won the doubles point with wins on courts one and three to get the early 1-0 lead, but were unable to hold on in singles play. - Beck Pennington gave UK the early 2-0 lead as he won on court six. The Bowling Green, Ky., native is undefeated in singles play this season, with an 8-0 record, and is 2-0 in SEC play. - The Wildcats finish the regular season at Florida and South Carolina this weekend before traveling to Oxford, Miss., for the SEC Tournament. The Wildcats defeated both UF and SC in 2011.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team fell 5-1 at home on Friday to No. 19 Vanderbilt. - Freshman Nadia Ravita improved on her already impressive freshman season, defeating No. 61 Lauren Mira in straight sets. The 24th-ranked individual won the match on court one 7-5, 6-3. - Kentucky will host No. 2 Florida on Friday and No. 29 South Carolina on Sunday to round out the regular season.
Track and field - A small contingent of Wildcats competed at the Bellarmine Invitational on Saturday. - Joanne Imbert placed second in the high jump with an outdoor season-high clearance of 1.72 meters/5'07.75". - Michelle Canterna finished as the runner-up in the pole vault, with a top clearance of 3.80 meters/12'05.5" - Shelby Kennard cleared 3.5 meters/ 11'05.75m, tying her outdoor season-high pole vault, before being unable to get over the bar at 3.65 meters /11'11.75".
Women's golf - The UK women's golf team finished fifth at the M&F Bank Rebel Invitational last week in Oxford, Miss., shooting 22-over for the tournament. The Cats recorded the third lowest round on the final day to propel them into fifth place of the 18-team field. - Junior Liz Breed, who competed as an individual for the Wildcats, charted one of her best performances of her career, tying her career-low with a 54-hole score of 2-over-par, 218 and equaled her best finish, tying for eighth place overall. - Senior Ashleigh Albrecht tallied her third-lowest score of the season, finishing tied for 12th at 1-over-par. Freshman Sarah Harris also had an impressive tournament, posting a career-low 7-over-par, 223, including a personal-best 1-under-par, 71 on the final day. She finished tied for 24th.
Monday, April 8 Men's golf at Gary Koch Invitational (Tampa, Fla.)
Tuesday, April 9 Men's golf at Gary Koch Invitational (Tampa, Fla.) Softball hosts Marshall - 5:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Austin Peay - 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 10 Softball at Eastern Kentucky - 2:00 p.m. Softball at Eastern Kentucky - 4:30 p.m.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, March 24:
Baseball: Kyle Barrett
Kyle Barrett helped lead UK to a series win over No. 14 Mississippi State, making four starts in the outfield ... The speedy freshman outfielder hit .385 (5-for-13) with a pair of doubles and RBI, drawing two walks and stealing a base, starting all four games of the week ... The Douglasville, Ga., native helped lead UK's walk-off win in the rubber-match vs. the Bulldogs, starting the bottom of the ninth inning with a double and scoring the game-winning and series-clinching win.
Baseball: Jerad Grundy
Jerad Grundy worked eight strong innings to lead UK to a series-evening win over No. 14 Mississippi State, in the front end of a doubleheader on Saturday ... The senior worked into the ninth inning of UK's 3-2 win, allowing five singles and a solo homer, with two runs scoring ... He did not allow a walk and struck out 10 ... Grundy struck out the side in the second and fourth innings, not allowing a baserunner to reach scoring position till the fifth ... Retired 13 of the first 14 hitters he faced, with nine strikeouts in the first five innings ... It was Grundy's fifth quality start of 2013, with the southpaw owning a 5-1 record and a 1.99 ERA, working 40 2/3 innings, allowing 27 hits and only eight walks, striking out 38 ... In his two-year career, Grundy has made 22 weekend starts, owning a 11-4 mark and a 3.21 ERA ... In 2013, Grundy ranks third in the SEC in wins, fourth in innings pitched, sixth in strikeouts and seventh in opponent batting average (.189).
Softball: Alice O'Brien
Senior outfielder Alice O'Brien had a hit in every game last week to set a career-long hitting streak of five games. O'Brien had a career game in UK's game-one win over Mississippi State, hitting two home runs - including a leadoff, game-winning home run in the 10th inning - lifting UK to the win. In the win, O'Brien tied career highs in hits and RBI with three in each. She went 3-for-4 in the game Friday with her other hit being a double, while she posted four RBI for the week behind a .467 (7-for-15) average. O'Brien's two-homer game tied the most homers in a game in school history, marking the 20th time it has happened for the Wildcats. The native of Murfreesboro, Tenn., is now hitting .288 (23-for-80) on the season with five doubles, three homers, 21 RBI and a .463 slugging percentage.
Softball: Kelsey Nunley
True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley had an outstanding week in the circle, going 2-0 with a 0.29 earned-run average against quality opponents. Nunley started the week with three innings in relief against WKU, getting her first collegiate save, allowing only one hit with four strikeouts. She came on in relief the next day against Iowa, throwing five solid innings, allowing four hits and one run with five strikeouts ... Best performances of the week came against Mississippi State ... Came on in relief Friday night to throw nine innings, allowing six hits and no runs with eight strikeouts - one off her season high total - to get the win ... Started the series finale pitching brilliantly, allowing only two hits over seven innings and no runs with seven strikeouts ... In her 10 starts this season, Nunley is 7-3 with a 1.86 ERA, allowing 17 earned runs with 56 strikeouts ... For the season, Nunley leads UK in nearly every pitching category, throwing a team-high 117.1 innings with a team-best 96 strikeouts and team-low 1.91 ERA.
Men's basketball - Kentucky fell 59-57 at Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT, after advancing to postseason -play for the 22nd-consecutive year. - Freshman Archie Goodwin led the team in scoring with 18 points, while junior Jarrod Polson logged 10. - Goodwin went 8-of-8 at the free throw line, which was the second-most made free throws in an NIT game in UK history.
Women's basketball - DeNesha Stallworth scored 18 points and Jennifer O'Neill added nine of her 12 points in the second half to lead the second-seeded Wildcats to a 61-41 win over 15th-seeded Navy on Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA women's tournament. - After trailing by a point at halftime, UK outscored Navy 35-16 in the second half to move onto the second round of the NCAA women's tournament. - The 20-point win is the largest margin of victory for Kentucky in a NCAA Tournament game. - The 41 points surrendered by UK is the lowest total for an NCAA Tournament game in school history.
Gymnastics - The No. 19 Kentucky gymnastics team placed eighth with a 194.6 team score at the SEC Championship. - Kentucky finishes the regular season with a school-record regional qualifying score of 196.06. - The Wildcats now await their NCAA regional fate, which will be revealed on the NCAA Gymnastics Championship Selection Show on Monday, March 25 at 3 p.m. - UK tied its season-high floor score with a 49.125, a total which also tied for highest at session I. - Kayla Hartley's floor routine turned plenty of heads as she produced a career-high tying score of 9.9.
Softball - The No. 21 Kentucky softball team got back to its winning ways over the weekend with a three-game sweep of Mississippi State at home. The series win was the second of the season for UK, who is now 5-4 in Southeastern Conference play heading into its bye weekend. UK also earned a 7-1 midweek win over WKU on Tuesday. - 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 average with one double, two home runs - one a walkoff, 10th-inning home run - and three RBI. Freshman Nikki Sagermann also hit .500 in the series with a home run and two runs scored. The other four home runs came from sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, junior outfielder Emily Jolly and two from freshman Maisie Steed. - In Tuesday's 7-1 victory over Western Kentucky, Nikki Sagermann was the offensive star in the game for Kentucky, going 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, including her first collegiate home run. - 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. Junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess went 1-0 on the weekend 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.
Baseball - The eighth-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week with a series win over No. 14 Mississippi State, spurred by a doubleheader sweep on Saturday. - Kentucky won its second consecutive series to open league play, also claiming the conference lidlifter at Florida last weekend. - Freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett hit .385 (5-for-13) with a pair of doubles and RBI, drawing two walks and stealing a base, starting all four games of the week. He contributed to UK's walk-off win in the rubber match vs. the Bulldogs, starting the bottom of the ninth inning with a double and scoring the game-winning and series-clinching win. - Jerad Grundy worked eight strong innings to lead UK to a series-evening win over No. 14 Mississippi State, in the front end of a doubleheader on Saturday. The senior worked into the ninth inning of UK's 3-2 win, allowing five singles and a solo homer, with two runs scoring - On the mound, UK has a 2.55 ERA, walking just 55 and striking out 176 in 205 innings.
Men's tennis - No. 31 Anthony Rossi picked up one of the biggest wins of his career on Sunday as he collected a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 7 KU Singh as UK fell 4-2 to Georgia. The win for Rossi was his 98th-career win and he now is just two wins shy of becoming the 15th player in UK tennis history to eclipse the 100-win mark. - UK returns to action on Friday as the Wildcats take on No. 29 Alabama at 2:00 p.m. ET at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center. The weekend will continue on Sunday as Kentucky faces off against Auburn.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team went 0-2 over the weekend, falling to Ole Miss 4-3 on Friday before defeating Mississippi State 7-0 on Sunday. - Freshman Nadia Ravita won two singles matches in the No. 1 singles slot, improving her record to 15-2. - Sophomore Stephanie Fox and freshman Kirsten Lewis both went 2-0 in singles over the weekend.
Women's golf - The UK women's golf team competed in their third tournament of the spring, finishing eighth in the 14-team field at the 2013 LSU Tiger Golf Classic. - Senior Ashleigh Albrecht recorded her second top-10 finish of the year, placing tied for seventh at 9-overpar. She was 7-over after the first round before firing team-lows and back-to-back rounds of 1-over-par to climb the leaderboard - Kentucky returns to the links April 5-7 at the Rebel Intercollegiate in Oxford, Miss.
Swimming and diving - Sophomores Christa Cabot and Christina Bechtel each made their NCAA Championships debut over the weekend in Indianapolis, Ind. Cabot competed in all three diving events while Bechtel swam in the 100-butterfly. - Bechtel was unable to qualify for the finals in the 100-butterfly, but finished in 25th overall with a preliminary time of 53.06, her best prelim time of her career. - Cabot's best finish came in the 3-meter springboard where she finished in 18th place with a six-dive score of 307.60.
Monday, March 25 Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C)
Tuesday, March 26 Women's basketball vs. Dayton - 7:00 p.m. (Queens, N.Y.) Softball at Western Kentucky - 8:00 p.m. Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C)
Wednesday, March 27 Baseball hosts Marshall - 3:00 p.m. Softball at Lipscomb - 7:00 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Thursday, March 28 Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Friday, March 29 Men's tennis hosts Alabama - 2:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Alabama - 4:00 p.m. Softball hosts Tennessee - 5:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Georgia - 6:30 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas) Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Oliver Nikoloff Invite (Cincinnati, Ohio) Track and field at Stanford Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Saturday, March 30 Baseball hosts Georgia - 2:00 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas) Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Oliver Nikoloff Invite (Cincinnati, Ohio) Track and field at Stanford Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Freshman Nikki Sagermann blasted her first career home run in the Wildcats' 7-1 victory over in state rival Western Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
Coming off a weekend during which the University of Kentucky softball team was swept by LSU, including the final two games of the series in which the Cats felt like they had in their grasp, UK got back on the winning side of things with a 7-1 victory over in-state rival Western Kentucky.
The Wildcats excelled all over the field Tuesday evening as the bats came out hot and the pitching was there to keep the Hilltoppers at bay. Kentucky outmatched a WKU team that came into the game sporting a 15-8 record but perhaps more impressively a 5-1 conference record including two wins over top-25 Louisiana-Lafayette.
Overall it was an all-around performance from the Cats and had head coach Rachel Lawson pleased about what she saw out of her team.
"I thought we had good performances on the mound by Lauren (Cumbess) and by (Kelsey) Nunley and then I thought our outfield played great and then offensively it was nice to generate some more offense," Lawson said.
UK wasted no time getting started early scoring three runs in the bottom of the second inning to put Western Kentucky on its heels.
Freshman Nikki Sagermann showed off some of the power Lawson has talked about by giving the Cats a 1-0 advantage with her first career home run. Sagermann has proven her ability to produce at the plate early in her career, coming into the game hitting at a .349 clip on the year, but Lawson has expressed how much more she can provide to UK once her power numbers begin to show.
And tonight she finally got the "monkey off her back" with her first blast of the year.
"Well when she crossed the plate she was like, 'Oh finally,' " Lawson said. "The reason she was recruited is because she is a strong girl and can hit the ball pretty hard. It was nice to see her get that one finally under her belt and hopefully she will be able to take that into tomorrow's game."
After Western Kentucky cut the Wildcats' deficit to 3-1 with a run in the top of the fourth, the Wildcats put the game out of reach in the bottom of the fifth with four runs to extend their lead to 7-1.
Kentucky had a plethora of key situational hits with runners in scoring position on the evening, which always puts a coach in a good mood when her team can step up to the dish and get the job done during the clutch moments of the game. Not to mention it helps give the offense confidence moving forward after a bit of a down three-game series in Baton Rouge, La., last weekend.
"One of our priorities today was to do a better job offensively," Lawson said. "We didn't score a lot of runs this past weekend so we wanted to make sure we were strong in the box and we are attacking good pitches. The fact that we could do that when the game was a little bit close said a lot about how feisty our team is and the ability to come back and learn and get better everyday."
Another positive note from the evening was the pitching performances of Cumbess and Nunley. These were great signs to see from the two Wildcat hurlers as they were both coming off heartbreaking defeats in the late innings to the hands of the LSU Tigers last weekend.
Cumbess gave up just one run through the first four frames before Nunley relieved her for the final three innings to secure her first career save.
Although they came back with loses from the LSU series, Lawson liked how the two pitched against the Tigers and was pleased to see them excel in the circle again tonight.
"It was great for them," Lawson said. "They pitched great this weekend. We didn't generate any offense to help them out and when you play a quality opponent like LSU you've got to score more than just a run or two."
Next up for the Cats is Iowa on Wednesday at the UK Softball Complex before UK returns to SEC play this weekend against Mississippi State.
The offense showed signs of returning to form and Lawson knows the unit has to keep working hard and improving everyday because they are going to need every bit of offensive production they can scratch across the board in league play.
"Our offense knows that and they continue to work hard and we got contributions from a number of people and we got some stolen bases so we did other things besides just hit the home run and that's what we are going to need to do to compete in the SEC," Lawson said.