As the northernmost school in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky is supposed to be at some sort of a competitive disadvantage in outdoor spring sports. Don't tell that to UK's baseball and softball teams.
As they prepare for their final non-conference weekend series vs. Michigan State, the baseball Wildcats sit at 11-1 and are in the midst of an eight-game winning streak. UK is hitting .325 as a team and is outscoring opponents by more than 6.5 runs per game.
Softball, meanwhile, is off to a school-record 16-3 start and is in the midst of an eight-game winning streak of its own. The Cats have already won four games against ranked opponents and two against teams that reached last year's Women's College World Series.
Pollsters have taken notice of the strong starts by both teams. Baseball is ranked No. 7 according to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, No. 10 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, No. 11 by Baseball America and No. 11 in the USA Today Coaches poll. Softball checks in at No. 17 in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll and No. 15 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll - UK's highest ranking in the history of the poll.
Those rankings put the Wildcats in a select group. UK is one of just five schools nationally to rank in the top 17 of every major baseball and softball poll. The other universities on that list are Oklahoma, LSU, UCLA and Oregon.
Baseball and softball aren't alone in their success either.
Men's and women's basketball are heading for postseason play. Third-ranked rifle bids for a second national championship in three seasons on Saturday. Men's tennis is 14-2 and is ranked higher that at any point since 2004. Women's tennis is on the rise and ranked No. 44. Edrick Floreal is ushering in a new era of UK track and field and has the women's team ranked No. 20 in indoors. The football team is on the cusp of spring practice and tickets to the Blue/White Spring Game are being snapped up at an unprecedented rate.
To put it another way, UK Athletics could be primed for a memorable spring.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, March 3:
Softball: Lauren Cumbess
Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess had an outstanding week in the circle, going 2-0 with a 0.58 ERA. Cumbess pitched against USF, which is receiving votes and went to the 2012 Women's College World Series, and Central Michigan. The native of Normal, Ill., came on in the fifth inning against USF and threw five hitless innings, striking out four and retiring 15 of the 16 batters she faced. She was also impressive against CMU, allowing an earned run in the first inning on two hits, but only one hit the remainder of the game. After giving up the run against CMU, Cumbess retired 18 of the next 20 batters she faced, including six by strikeout. For the season, Cumbess is 4-1 with a 2.39 ERA, throwing 38 innings with 36 strikeouts and only 13 earned runs allowed. The two-way player has also hit well this season, leading the team with a .373 average on top of 22 hits, four doubles, two homers and a team-high 18 RBI.
Softball: Kara Dill
Senior Kara Dill ended the tournament on a three-game hitting streak after her impressive 3-for-3 performance in UK's win over Western Michigan. Dill had two singles and a triple against the Broncos, while scoring three runs and stealing base. The native of LaGrange, Ohio, played solid defense on the weekend as well, making several nice plays in the field. Dill has hit leadoff in every game but one this season, leading UK in hits and runs scored with a strong on-base percentage of .403. Dill is hitting .358 for the season with four stolen bases and six multi-hit games.
Baseball: Greg Fettes
Freshman catcher Greg Fettes made a pair of starts during the week behind the plate, batting 4-for-6 with a double and three RBI ... In his first career home start in the 2013 home opener, Fettes collected a single and a sacrifice fly ... Earned his third career start vs. Akron on Saturday, catching a dynamic pitching outing from Jerad Grundy, with the senior southpaw tossing eight shutout, two-hit innings with Fettes behind the dish ... Went a career-high 3-for-4 with two RBI and a double in the win over Akron ... On the year, Fettes - a 43rd round pick of the Detroit Tigers out of high school - has hit .750 (6-for-8) with two doubles and three RBI.
Baseball: Jerad Grundy
Senior southpaw Jerad Grundy had the best start of his career in a win over Akron on Saturday ... Worked eight shutout, two-hit innings, not allowing a walk and striking out a career-best 12 ... Became the first UK pitcher to strike out 12 hitters since Alex Meyer fanned 13 in a start vs. Niagara in 2011 ... He allowed only a pair of singles with no base runners advancing past first base ... He retired the first eight hitters he faced before an infield single, including seven by strikeout ... Rated as the seventh-best senior in college baseball by Baseball America in the preseason, he retired 13 consecutive after allowing a third-inning single ... Tossed only 86 pitches, including a staggering 68 for strikes ... Through his first three starts of 2013, has a 3-0 record and a 0.43 ERA, allowing only one earned run in 21 innings, striking out 24 and holding opponents to a .125 average ... In his two-year UK career, has a 9-3 record and a 3.12 ERA in 19 starts, tossing 106.2 innings and striking out 87.
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
Senior guard A'dia Mathies led 10th-ranked Kentucky to wins over Ole Miss (90-65) and No. 8/8 Tennessee (78-65) last week.
Averaged a team-high 18.0 points per contest, along with 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.0 assists per game.
Scored 20 points at Ole Miss, marking her seventh 20-point game of the season, including second straight.
Scored 13 of her team-high 16 points in the decisive second half against Tennessee, including back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the Cats' lead to 17 with 12:06 remaining in the game.
Hit 5-of-9 from behind the arc in the two games for .556 percent. The five 3-pointers moved her up to No. 7 on UK's single season 3-point field goals list with 60.
Displayed her defensive abilities against the Lady Vols, tying season highs with four steals and two blocks in the contest.
Has now reached double figures in 27-of-29 games this season, including 20 in a row and every SEC game.
Ranks in the top 10 on 13 UK career lists, including No. 2 in scoring (1,899), No. 3 in steals (303), and fourth in field goals made (706) and 3-pointers made (164).
With four steals vs. Tennessee, she became just the third player in school history to have 300 or more in her career.
First player in UK history (men or women) to accumulate over 1,800 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 300 steals in her career.
The SEC's active career scoring and steals leader.
Leads the team in scoring (16.0 ppg), 3-pointers made (60) and is second in assists (2.4) and steals (2.4) per game this season.
Averaging a team-high 18.2 points per game in SEC play and is tied for the team-high with 1.8 steals per contest.
Softball: Kelsey Nunley
Kelsey Nunley did not have the best week statistically in the circle, but provided clutch innings for Kentucky and got key outs that should propel UK into SEC play. The freshman went 3-0 overall with a 1.94 ERA in 21.2 innings with 18 strikeouts. Nunley started the first game of the tournament against Illinois, allowing two earned runs, while striking out five and only walking one over eight innings of play. After giving up three runs on three hits and three walks in the first inning vs. LMU, Nunley settled down to throw six scoreless innings the rest of the way, retiring 14 straight to end the game. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., came on in relief against Western Michigan, getting the final two outs of the first inning with the bases loaded, keeping the game tied before going the final 6.2 innings against WMU, allowing four hits and one earned run while striking out eight - just one off her career high, Overall this season, Nunley is 10-0 - believed to be the only player in school history to start a season 10-0 in the circle - with a team-low 2.16 ERA, throwing 68.0 innings, allowing 21 earned runs with a team-best 55 strikeouts.
Baseball: A.J. Reed
Sophomore two-way star A.J. Reed had a historic week for the Wildcats, leading UK to five wins to extend its winning streak to seven games ... Drove in 15 RBI during the week, belting three homers and adding a double ... Hit .526 (10-for-19) during the week, with a 1.053 slugging and a .609 on-base percentage ... In UK's home opening win over Murray State, belted a three-run, first-inning homer to give UK an early lead, finishing with four RBI and a pair of hit by pitches ... On Wednesday, scored a run and collected a hit, before exploding in the series opener vs. Akron ... Went 4-for-5 in the opener vs. the Zips, with five RBI and his second homer of the week ... Also started the opener vs. Akron on the mound, tossing six innings and allowing only two runs on six hits and two walks, striking out four ... In the series-clincher on Saturday, belted a homer - his second consecutive game with a bomb - going 3-for-4 with three RBI and a walk ... In the sweep clincher on Sunday, Reed ripped a double off the centerfield wall to clear the bases, giving him three more RBI in a 1-for-3 game ... On the year, Reed leads UK with 22 RBI on four homers, a double and a triple, batting .409 (18-for-44) with 11 runs scored ... On the mound, as UK's Friday-night starter, Reed has a 2-1 record ... A preseason All-America honoree, Reed has hit .320 (78-for-244) in his two-year UK career with eight homers and 65 RBI, posting a 7-4 record with a 3.00 ERA on the mound.
Men's basketball - Kentucky went 1-1 on the week with a win over Mississippi State before falling at Arkansas on Saturday. - Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein continued his dynamic play by averaging 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per game this week. - With the win over the Bulldogs, UK secured its 57th 20-win season in program history - Kentucky was led in scoring by Arkansas native Archie Goodwin with 14 points in the loss to the Razorbacks. Women's basketball - After earning its school-record tying 13th SEC win with a commanding 78-65 victory over No. 8 Tennessee on Senior Day, Kentucky earned the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. - The Wildcats have had another remarkable season under the direction of head coach Matthew Mitchell. Mitchell, who became UK's all-time winningest coach with the win over Tennessee, has led the Cats to a school-record fourth straight 25-win season with a 25-4 overall record, including a 13-3 mark in SEC play. - A'dia Mathies had led the team in scoring (16.0), 3-point field goals made (60) and 3-point field goal percentage (.403), and has reached double figures in 27-of-29 games, including 20 in a row
Gymnastics - The Kentucky gymnastics team shattered the school record with a 196.5 team score in a win at Ball State on Sunday. - Kentucky has now posted team scores of more than 196 two weeks in a row for the first time in school history. - Audrey Harrison won her fifth consecutive individual all-around title with a huge career-high score of 39.425. - The Knoxville, Tenn., native now has a Southeastern Conference-leading seven AA titles this season. Softball - For the second consecutive weekend, the No. 17 Kentucky softball team went undefeated in a weekend tournament, posting a 5-0 record in the 2013 Under Armour Invitational with wins against Illinois, USF, Loyola Marymount, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. - This is the first time in school history UK has gone undefeated in consecutive tournaments. - Senior Kara Dill led UK offensively over the weekend with a .353 (6-for-17) average, including six runs scored and her first triple of the season. - In the circle, Lauren Cumbess paced UK with a 2-0 record and 0.58 ERA in 12 innings pitched, including 11 strikeouts. True freshman Kelsey Nunley went 3-0 on the weekend with a 1.94 ERA, throwing 21.2 innings, allowing six earned runs with 18 strikeouts.
Baseball - The eighth-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed its first home week with five wins, including a series sweep over Akron during the weekend. UK picked up midweek wins over Murray State and Eastern Kentucky. - UK has been led individually by junior infielder J.T. Riddle, who has hit .447 (21-for-47) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and 11 RBI, stealing three bases and reaching base at a .527 clip. - On the mound, UK had a 2.57 ERA in 98 innings, walking only 27 and striking out 87, with opponents hitting .255, stealing only 3-of-7 bases and UKL picking off four runners. - During the five-game week, UK got a jaw-dropping hitting performance from Reed, who drove in 15 RBI with three homers and a double during the week, batting .526 (10-for-19).
Men's tennis - Kentucky opened the 2013 SEC season by collecting two wins over No. 49 Arkansas (5-2) on Friday and No. 39 LSU (4-0) on Sunday afternoon to move to 14-2 (2-0 SEC) on the season. - Senior No. 21 Anthony Rossi upped his record to 14-1 on the season, picking up wins number 95 and 96 in his career. Rossi has now won nine consecutive straight-set matches and has also won 18 of the last 19 sets he has played. - UK won the doubles point in both matches this weekend, as the Wildcats are now 11 for 13 this season in doubles competition.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team went 1-1 in the opening weekend of Southeastern Conference play. - After falling 4-3 at Arkansas on Friday, Kentucky traveled to Baton Rouge, La., and defeated the No. 63 Tigers 4-3. - Freshman Kirsten Lewis had a comeback win to clinch Kentucky's win over LSU, taking the No. 5 singles point 1-6, 7-5, 6-4. - Senior Jessica Stiles, sophomore Stephanie Fox and freshman Nadia Ravita all recorded singles wins in straight sets vs. LSU.
Track and field - Five Kentucky track and field athletes, four women and a man, are in position to qualify for this weekend's NCAA Indoor Championships as they own top-16 times. - The Women's Distance Medley Relay Team of Cally Macumber, Morganne Phillips, Allison Peare and Chelsea Oswald broke the school record with a time of 11:00.33 on Friday. - That time ranks No. 6 in the nation. - Keith Hayes broke the school 60-meter hurdles record with a time of 7.73 on Saturday. - That time ranks No. 9 n the nation.
Swimming and diving - The Kentucky swimming team sent several swimmers to the Bulldog Last Chance Meet this past weekend in Athens, Ga., attempting to earn qualifying times for the 2013 NCAA Championships. - Sophomore Christina Bechtel improved her time in the 100-butterfly with a 52.62, second best in program history in that event. The time likely will earn her a ticket to the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., March 21-23. - Junior Lucas Gerotto also improved his time in the 100-backstroke while breaking his own program record in the event, finishing with a 47.19 to increase the likelihood that he is asked back for his second consecutive NCAA appearance.
Monday, March 4 Men's golf at USF Invitational (Tampa, Fla.)
Tuesday, March 5 Baseball hosts Cincinnati - 4:00 p.m. Men's golf at USF Invitational (Tampa, Fla.)
Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner leads the Wildcats with three home runs on the year. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Another week means more wins and a different storyline this season for Kentucky softball. The Wildcats traveled to Spartanburg, S.C., last weekend where they had the likes of Georgetown, Howard and host team USC Upstate awaited their arrival.
After a grueling first two weeks of the season during which the Cats faced five nationally ranked teams in their first 11 games, they had an opportunity to work on some things offensively and defensively while allowing some players to see some live action.
The first two games of the weekend went as planned with Kentucky rolling over Georgetown and Howard. Junior hurler Ellen Weaver earned her second start of the season against the Hoyas, while head coach Rachel Lawson gave the ball to freshman pitcher Katie Henderson for her first career start against Howard.
The final game of the three game set came against USC Upstate, which sported a 10-0 record coming into the game. UK had yet to its their top two pitching performers in junior Lauren Cumbess and freshman Kelsey Nunley and Rachel Lawson elected to give the nod to the veteran Cumbess.
Lawson describes the game as a "boxing match" as both teams traded blows in an 11-inning affair in which the Cats prevailed 12-8. Kentucky fell behind in the game 4-0 after a first-inning grand slam by Upstate and Cumbess was knocked out of the game after just two frames.
"When they started off the first inning and they hit the grand slam, very easily we could have packed in," Lawson said. "Their stadium was packed and it was a really small environment so it was pretty loud. A young team a lot of times when they are in that situation sometimes gets a little nervous and they don't do well but in our case the cool thing was we kept chipping away and fighting back."
The sixth-year head coach then turned to her dynamic freshman right hander. Nunley pitched the final nine innings and the Wildcats fought back to finish 3-0 on the weekend.
Lawson said the game was probably one of the best her team has played all season because it was a total team effort. Offensively, Alice O'Brien and Griffin Joiner each connected for a round tripper, while Sylver Samuel and Ginny Carroll contributed late in the game with some clutch performances. Defense doesn't show up in the box score, but senior Kara Dill played tremendous at shortstop making play after play and O'Brien made a catch in right field in the later innings to keep the Cats' hopes alive.
According to Lawson, Upstate was one of the best hitting teams UK has faced this season and Nunley kept the Cats in the game shutting down the Spartans through the final nine innings, giving up just two earned runs.
Although Nunley is a freshman, she never feels alone in the circle because she has her counterpart in Cumbess playing defense right beside her and encouraging her every pitch.
"Shes always encouraging me telling me, 'You got this, you can do it," between every batter and that's really helped me along the way," Nunley said.
Lawson always prides her teams' mental toughness and Sunday's game was an epitome of what she instills in her players. Not only did Kentucky have to battle back from a 4-0 deficit, but the Cats also responded after Upstate tied the score in the seventh and ninth innings to extend the game.
It's tough for Lawson to say if this is the most mentally tough team she has ever coached because the season is so young and Southeastern Conference play is still ahead, but the Cats definitely are stacking up well so far.
"If we can continue to exhibit this mentality throughout I would argue this is probably our toughest team from game one all the way through the end," Lawson said. "I do believe right now this team is exhibiting as much mental toughness as I have seen out of any softball team."
The Wildcats are now 14 games into the season and Kentucky's eight freshmen have had a chance to get their feet wet at the collegiate level. That experience is manifesting itself in increased confidence, particularly in Maisie Steed, who had a home run and three RBIs against the Spartans.
Steed and Nunley were huge for the Cats over the weekend but the rest of the freshmen are starting to get more comfortable in their surroundings and finding their roles on the team.
"There was a lot of unknown when they went out to play Washington and Stanford and Cal. They had never seen anything like that," Lawson said. "I think they are just a lot more confident in the box, they understand they belong here now as opposed to wondering where they fit in. I think as they continue to get more opportunities and more at bats you are going to see them get better and better as the season progresses."
Kentucky returns to action this weekend when the Cats travel to Tampa, Fla., to play five games in three days. UK will face better overall competition than they did last weekend, including 2012 Women's College World Series participant South Florida.
Although the competition gets tougher, Lawson believes no team this weekend will be as good as what they faced against USC Upstate. If her team can play with that same intensity and mental edge as the Cats did versus the Spartans and are more aggressive at the dish, the weekend will be a success.
"I'm hoping they just pick right off where they left off with the Upstate game except for maybe a little better job in the circle so we don't give up as many hits," Lawson said. "I would like us to get back into a more aggressive-type mindset offensively instead of sitting. There is nothing wrong and I like us taking pitches but you can't be taking strike three especially when people are on base so that was something that we did poorly this weekend and I would like to see that turn around coming into Florida."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 24:
Men's basketball: Willie Cauley-Stein
Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein had a breakout week in helping lead UK to a pair of crucial victories this week. Cauley-Stein averaged 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. His 19 rebounds for the week, .647 field goal percentage, blocks and steals were all team highs. Cauley-Stein began the week by pouring in a career-high 20 points to couple with a team-high seven rebounds and three blocks. He made 8-of-10 field goals in the win over Vanderbilt. In an overtime thriller of a victory over Missouri, Cauley-Stein played in a career-high 35 minutes. The first-year player altered the game defensively with a career-high seven blocked shots. His 12 rebounds was a career-high tying, and it marked only the third game in his career with double-figure rebounding. He added seven points to the winning cause in addition to another steal.
Baseball: Jerad Grundy
Senior southpaw Jerad Grundy continued his dominating start to 2013 with a win over Elon in a pitching duel with 2012 Cape Cod League All-Star Dylan Clark ... Grundy worked seven innings in the win, allowing only three hits and one run, walking two and striking out three ... Elon hit .136 against the Johnsburg, Ill., native with Grundy only facing three hitters over the minimum ... Grundy opened the first 12.1 innings of the year without allowing an earned run, before the Phoenix got a solo homer in the seventh inning ... On the year, Grundy has a 2-0 mark and a 0.69 ERA, tossing 13 innings, allowing seven hits and three walks, striking out 12, with foes hitting .152.
Softball: Griffin Joiner
Griffin Joiner continued her hot bat, earning a hit in every game to move her season-long hitting streak to five games - just one off her career best. Joiner hit .583 (7-for-12) for the weekend, while slugging at a 1.250 clip, and posting two or more RBI in every game. Her three hits against Howard tied a career high, while her three RBI against Howard and USC Upstate also tied a career high. The native of Hopkinsville, Ky., blasted two homers on the weekend, including a go-ahead bomb in UK's thrilling 11-inning win against USC Upstate. Joiner leads the team with three roundtrippers, while sitting tied for first with four doubles and second on the team with 12 RBI.
Baseball: Max Kuhn
Sophomore infielder Max Kuhn continued his blistering pace to open the 2013 season, leading UK in hitting during a challenging three games at the Caravelle Resort Invitational ... Kuhn hit .385 (5-for-13) with a double and two RBI during the week, including a career-best three-hit game vs. Kansas State on Thursday ... On the year, Kuhn is hitting .320 (8-for-25) with two doubles and a triple, adding seven RBI and a 5-3 walk-strikeout ratio.
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
Senior guard A'dia Mathies led UK in scoring on the week, averaging 16.5 points per contest, along with 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals.
Despite playing just five minutes in the first half due to two early fouls, Mathies scored a team-high 13 points in the second half to help lead the Wildcats over No. 10/13 Texas A&M 70-66.
The win snapped A&M's 12-game home winning streak and gave UK its fourth win over a ranked opponent this season, including second win over a top-10 team on the road.
Scored 17 of 20 points in the second half at LSU, marking her sixth 20-plus point outing and moving her to No. 2 on UK's all-time scoring list.
Also grabbed six rebounds and equaled a team-high with three assists.
Has reached double figures in 25-of-27 games this season, including 18 in a row.
With four 3-pointers on the week, is tied for ninth on UK's single season 3-pointers made list with 55.
Ranks in the top 10 on 13 UK career lists, including No. 2 in scoring (1,863), No. 3 in steals (297) and No. 5 in field goals made (656) and 3-pointers made (159).
Only player in UK history to accumulate over 1,800 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 250 steals in her career.
Overall, leads the team in scoring (15.9 ppg), 3-pointers made (55) and is second in assists per game (2.4) this season.
Averaging a team-high 18.2 points per game in SEC play and is tied for the team-high with 1.6 steals per contest.
Men's basketball: Julius Mays
Senior Julius Mays was sensational in helping lead UK to a pair of critical victories this week. The senior logged 16.5 points for the week to go along with 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists. In the opener for the week, Mays logged nine points and a team-high six assists. He added six rebounds and a steal. He was magnificent in the win over Missouri playing in a career-high 44 minutes. He logged a season-high 24 points while going .500 from the field including 4-of-8 from behind the arc. He added six more rebounds and dished out three assists. Furthermore, he was 8-of-9 from the free throw line including a perfect 6-fo-6 in overtime. Mays has connected on a least one 3-pointer in 16-straight games and has made multiple 3s in seven-straight. UK is 5-0 when he pulls down six or more rebounds, which he achieved in both outings this week.
Softball: Maisie Steed
Produced for Kentucky in limited action, hitting .600 (3-for-5) for the weekend with three RBI, including a double, homer and stolen base. Steed's homer was the second of the season, ranking her tied for second on the team. The freshman walked three times against USC Upstate, coming home to score once. Steed played solid defense all weekend, not committing an error even though she played third base, first base and both corner outfield positions.
Men's basketball - Kentucky captured a pair of critical home victories this week including an overtime thriller against Missouri. - Senior Julius Mays poured in a team-high 24 points in the win over Missouri on Saturday. He launched four 3-pointers and has now connected on at least one shot from long range in 16 straight games. - Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein notched a career-high 20 points to push UK past Vanderbilt earlier in the week. He followed that performance with a career-high tying 12 rebounds against Missouri to go along with a career-best seven blocked shots. - Alex Poythress scored 21 points, while Archie Goodwin notched 18 - all coming after the half in the win over Missouri.
Women's basketball - Kentucky split road games last week, defeating No. 10/13 Texas A&M 70-66 in College Station on ESPN2's Big Monday before falling at LSU on Sunday in Baton Rouge 77-72. - Against the Aggies, junior center DeNesha Stallworth flirted with a triple-double as she charted 12 points, 12 rebounds and a school-record seven blocks. . - Mathies netted a team-high 20 points at LSU, passing former Wildcat great Victoria Dunlap as UK's No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 1,863 career points.
Gymnastics - Kentucky recorded its best score of the year at Florida on Friday. The Wildcats finished with a total score of 196.075, dropping the meet to the Gators' score of 196.975. - UK's score was good for the sixth best in program history. - The Wildcats used season-high event scores on vault and beam to reach 196 for the first time this season. - Audrey Harrison also notched her sixth all-around title of the season and fourth in a row, scoring a 39.225.
Rifle - The Kentucky rifle team finished second at the Great America Rifle Conference over the weekend, shooting a 4690 over the course of the weekend. - Freshman Connor Davis won the GARC individual air rifle title, shooting a 596 before winning with a 105 in the Final. - Senior Henri Junghanel placed second overall individually with an aggregate score of 1179.
Softball - The UK softball team continued its winning ways over the weekend with a 3-0 record, taking down Georgetown, Howard and USC Upstate. - Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner led the Wildcats offensively with a .583 (7-for-12) average with two doubles, two homers, eight RBI and four runs scored. - Pitchers Ellen Weaver, Katie Henderson and Kelsey Nunley all recorded wins, while Weaver going five strong innings, allowing only one hit and no runs against Georgetown and Henderson allowing only one hit over five innings against Howard. Nunley threw the final nine innings against Upstate to get the win.
Baseball - No. 8 Kentucky continued its season-opening six-game road trip with the Caravelle Resort Invitational, hosted by Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach. S.C., picking up wins over CCU and Elon and suffering its first loss of the year to Kansas State in the opener on Thursday. - UK finished the weekend with a ninth-inning win at Coastal Carolina, 2-2. - UK has hit .314 as a team through six games, slugging .435 and reaching base at a .311 clip. UK has stolen 12 bases and on the mound, owns a 3.57 ERA, with 16 walks and 42 strikeouts in 53 innings.
Track and field - The women's track and field team finished seventh in the SEC Indoor Championship team standings with 34 points, and the men finished 10th with 30. - Cally Macumber led all Wildcats with 15 points earned throughout the meet. Matt Hillenbrand led the men with 11.25. Macumber won the women's 3,000 meters SEC championship. - Hillenbrand won the SEC mile championship with a time of 4:01.55. Hillenbrand's time was a new personal best, and the seventh-fastest in school history. The junior became the first Kentucky athlete to win the SEC men's mile since David Freeman took home the title in 2004.
Men's tennis - The No. 6 men's tennis team traveled to Birmingham, Ala., this weekend and collected two wins in a doubleheader with Samford University and Jacksonville State, both by a score of 5-1, to move to 12-2 on the season. - No. 90 Anthony Rossi picked up his 93rd and 94th career wins in a UK uniform on Sunday with wins in both matches for the Wildcats. - Also picking up wins in both ends of the doubleheader for the Wildcats were Beck Pennington, Kevin Lai and Juan Pablo Murra.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team defeated the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks 5-2. - Freshman Nadia Ravita improved to 7-1 in the No. 1 singles slot after defeating Christiana Raymond 6-1, 6-2. - Senior Jessica Stiles and sophomore Stephanie Fox won their singles matches in straight sets, with Stiles winning 6-4, 6-3 and Fox taking the No. 6 singles point 6-3, 6-1. - The Wildcats moved into the rankings for the first time this season, landing in the No. 63 spot.
Men's golf - The Kentucky men's golf team opened up its 2013 spring season, placing 10th out of 16 teams in the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate. UK finished 37-over-par with a final score of 901. - Senior Chase Parker was the low golfer of the week for the Wildcats, finishing tied for 16th overall at 4-over-par. - Junior transfer Ben Stow made his Kentucky debut, placing tied for 27th at 6-over-par.
Swimming and diving - The UK men's and women's swimming and diving teams competed in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Swimming and Diving Championships last week with both the men (368.5) and the women (452.5) finishing in ninth place. - Junior diver Greg Ferrucci earned two second place finishes on the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard events and earned an eighth place on the platform. He broke the program record on the platform in the preliminaries with a 435.5. - Junior swimmer Lucas Gerotto broke multiple program records at the Championships including the 200-IM (1:47.20) and the 100-backstroke (47.29).
Thursday, Feb. 28 Women's basketball at Ole Miss - 8:00 p.m.
Friday, March 1 Softball vs. Illinois - 11:30 a.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Women's tennis at Arkansas - 1:00 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Arkansas - 1:00 p.m. Softball vs. USF - 2:00 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Baseball hosts Akron - 4:00 p.m. Track and field at NCAA Qualifying (South Bend, Ind./Fayetteville, Ark.)
Saturday, March 2 Baseball hosts Akron - Noon Softball vs. Loyola Marymount - 12:15 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Softball vs. Central Michigan - 2:45 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Baseball hosts Akron - 3:00 p.m. Men's basketball at Arkansas - 4:00 p.m. Swimming and diving at Last Chance Meet (Knoxville, Tenn./Athens, Ga.) Track and field at Last Chance Qualifier (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Sunday, March 3 Softball vs. Western Michigan - 9:00 a.m. (Tampa, Fla.) Men's tennis hosts LSU - 1:00 p.m. Women's tennis at LSU - 1:00 p.m. Gymnastics at Ball State - 1:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Akron - 1:00 p.m. Women's basketball hosts Tennessee - 3:30 p.m. Men's golf at USF Invitational (Tampa, Fla.) Swimming and diving at Last Chance Meet (Knoxville, Tenn./ Athens, Ga.)
Junior Lauren Cumbess has been a pivotal part to the Wildcats' success with her performances in the circle and at the plate. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
As the calendar approaches March and the weather begins to warm up, the feel in the air gives fans an itch for the outdoor sports season. The University of Kentucky softball team is off to a terrific start in their 2013 campaign and should give fans plenty to be excited about.
The Wildcats have jumped out to an 8-3 record, including wins over No. 3 California, No. 20 Stanford and No. 16 Washington, as sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson believes this may be the best start in school history. UK got off to a 10-2 start in 2010, but in terms of quality opponents, the Cats have faced five ranked teams in their first 11 games, along with Oregon State and San Diego State who are receiving votes.
Kentucky, which began the year outside of the polls, has climbed into national consideration and currently sits 20th and 22nd in this week's rankings.
It's tough to gauge what your team is just two weeks into the season, but Lawson was pleased with the complete team effort she saw out of her players in the two tournaments out west. The Wildcats displayed great pitching and the offense came up with clutch hits in key situations to give Lawson confidence about her team's mental toughness.
"You can't beat those teams without great pitching so it started there and offensively, where we didn't put up a lot of power numbers, we were good situationally," Lawson said. "Some games we started off pretty hot but then in other games where they were close we were able to come up with a run at the end so that's a sign of mental toughness, which is something that we pride ourselves on and being pretty gritty."
Lawson is not surprised by her players' performance. Kentucky has several new faces that joined the roster this year and even have returners in positions they have never played before, but all stepped up when their time was called.
Sophomore Kara Howard made a possible game-saving catch against Stanford when she robbed a potential two-run homerun in the fifth inning to preserve a 3-0 lead for the Cats. Krystal Smith also stepped up, filling in at third base for the first time in her UK career. Smith's defense, specifically charging the plate on bunts, has stood out to Lawson. As far as the outfield goes, Lawson feels the entire crew is ahead of where they were last season, which was a bit of a weakness at the beginning of the 2012 season.
The Wildcats are loaded with depth and decisions are still up in the air on who has locked in positions in the lineup.
"We definitely have to figure it out," Lawson said. "The nice thing is we did so well and I don't even think the new people even came close to doing what they can do."
Kentucky features a talented freshman group that is expected to make an impact on the Cats' success this year.
Nikki Sagermann ranks second on the team in batting average, hitting at a .364 clip in nine starts and Lawson feels she is capable of even better numbers because she is yet to show off her power and slugging percentage.
Sylver Samuel has played in 10 of the 11 games and leads the team with three stolen bases, while Darrington Richardson - who has been used primarily in pinch-running situations - has swiped two bags. The two should create plenty of havoc on the base paths and Lawson believes they are two of the fastest players she's ever coached.
Ansley Smith, Maisie Steed and Christian Stokes also saw playing time in the opening two tournaments and should see their numbers rise when they get more comfortable as the season progresses.
In the circle, the Wildcats had some exceptional performances from junior Lauren Cumbess and freshman Kelsey Nunley. Cumbess gave the Wildcats a jolt of energy with a 3-2 victory over third-ranked Cal to open the season. The Lady Bears threatened multiple times in the game but the Normal, Ill., native buckled down and led the Wildcats to a nine-inning triumph.
Nunley has been arguably the most impressive player for UK thus far, posing a 6-0 record in the circle, including wins over No. 20 Stanford and No. 16 Washington. Her 32 strikeouts lead the team, while her 2.50 ERA is second to Cumbess' 2.04. The talent is obviously there for the young right-hander out of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., but Lawson says there is another quality Nunley possesses that you can't teach.
"She is just a winner," Lawson said. "She is just really tough and when you need someone to come up with an out in crucial situation, she is the one you want on the mound. There is nothing more that she would want than to be in the circle and get the big out. In that regard, she is special and you know what she does well I can't teach. If she starts to figure some things out and gets a dominant out pitch, she is going to be pretty awesome."
Not only has Cumbess been impressive in the circle, she leads Kentucky in hitting (.429), homeruns (two) and runs batted in (10). The junior has become a force in the middle of the Cats' lineup and has already garnered opposing pitcher's attention, forcing them to pitch around her.
"It is getting to the point late in the game where they won't even pitch to her," Lawson said. "Once we can tighten up some hitters behind her, she will do even better."
This weekend, UK travels to Spartanburg, S.C., to face Georgetown, Howard and USC Upstate. The Wildcats will not be facing the quality of opponents from a rankings standpoint compared to their first two tournaments. However, as Lawson says, this weekend will allow the Cats to focus on some situational hitting and an opportunity for the players to get more action under their belt.
But Lawson doesn't want to look past this weekend and will approach the games like any other.
"The goal is always to win the softball game, so first and foremost we have to win," Lawson said.
With an 8-3 start and three wins over ranked opponents on a challenging (and long) West Coast road trip, Rachel Lawson's Kentucky softball team has surged into both polls after beginning the season unranked. The Wildcats are garnering some national attention for their impressive start, including leading off Graham Hays' week 2 College Softball Notebook for espnW. Here's an excerpt from his story:
A lot of programs get good for a short time. Fewer successfully manage the transition to what comes next.
"We're kind of starting a new era with Kentucky softball," Lawson said.
At least the Wildcats are easing into it. Or not.
Kentucky's schedule in the first two weeks was as ominous as any in the nation. First at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., and this past week at the Campbell-Cartier Classic in San Diego. Opponents have included Arizona State, California, Cal Poly, Oklahoma, Oregon State, San Diego State, Stanford and Washington. The Wildcats stand at 8-3, including wins against four Pac-12 teams and San Diego State on its home field.
They took their lumps against Arizona State and Oklahoma, two teams likely to apply them with regularity this season, but they also answered the skepticism that left them unranked to start the season.
"It was a very tough schedule, but it's exciting to get to play those teams," senior shortstop Kara Dill said. "We are in one of the best conferences, so we play Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia. We play them all the time. So to get to play some Pac-12 teams and some Big 12 teams, it's a different game. We understand SEC softball, but it's just a different game playing those teams. It's exciting.
"You want to be where those teams have been. We want to be in the World Series, and they've been there."
Next up for the Cats are four games this weekend in Spartanburg, S.C. Look for a longer story later in the week here on Cat Scratches, but check out Hays' full notebook in the meantime.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 17:
Baseball: Jerad Grundy
Senior southpaw Jerad Grundy had a great season debut, pitching UK to a win over Niagara on Sunday ... Grundy worked six innings without allowing an earned run, walking one and tying his career high with nine strikeouts ... Grundy allowed only four hits and held NU to a .167 batting average ... In the middle innings, Grundy struck out five consecutive hitters, not allowing a hit the second time through the order ... Grundy retired In his two-year UK career, Grundy has started 17 games with a 7-3 record and a 3.53 ERA.
Softball: Lauren Cumbess
Led the team in hitting against some of the best teams in the nation, helping the Wildcats defeat No. 16 Washington and San Diego State, who was receiving votes in one poll. Cumbess hit .500 over the weekend, going 8-for-16 with two homers, one double and five RBI.
Cumbess leads the team overall in batting average (.429), hits (15), homers (two), RBI (10) and slugging percentage (.657). She had a hit in every game throughout the tournament, including two against Keilani Ricketts, who pitched two no-hitters the opening weekend of the season to earn National Player of the Week honors. She is currently on a five-game hitting streak, the longest of the season by any Wildcat
The native of Normal, Ill., also pitched well over the weekend, going 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA. She threw a complete game shutout against Cal Poly, going seven innings, allowing only four hits while striking out seven. Cumbess paces the team in ERA with a 2.04 mark and is second in strikeouts with 22.
Softball: Kelsey Nunley
Pitched beautifully for the Wildcats in the second tournament of the season, posting a 2.21 ERA with wins against San Diego State, who was receiving votes in one major poll, No. 16 Washington and UC Riverside. She threw a complete game shutout against San Diego State, allowing only three hits while striking out seven and only walking two. Also went six innings the next day against highly ranked Washington, allowing six hits and one run - none earned - striking out three with no walks.
Nunley came on in relief against UC Riverside after UK just captured a 4-3 lead and shut the door, allowing the highlanders only one hit over her three innings in the circle while striking out two batters.
In her two starts over the weekend, Nunley went 13 innings, allowing nine hits and no earned runs with 10 strikeouts. In her four starts this season, Nunley is 4-0 and 6-0 overall. In those four starts Nunley has thrown 25 innings, allowing only three runs - two earned - while striking out 27 and walking seven.
Women's basketball: Jennifer O'Neill
Redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill led Kentucky to a 78-74 come-from-behind victory over No. 16/14 South Carolina.
Scored 19 points, including 10 in the decisive second half as Kentucky came back from a 16-point deficit to record its largest comeback in the Matthew Mitchell era and tie the fourth-largest comeback in school history.
Pulled down a season-high six rebounds and hit 6-of-7 from the charity stripe in a season-high 36 minutes.
With the game knotted at 72 with 25 seconds remaining, O'Neill found open teammate Kastine Evans under the basket for a layup to give UK a two-point lead. She later iced the game by sinking two free throws with 16 seconds to go, giving the Wildcats a four-point advantage.
Ranks third on the team in scoring at 10.2 points per contest, including 12.5 points in league play.
Has reached double figures in 12 games this season, including nine of 12 SEC contests.
Ranks tied for second on the team in 3-point field goals made (43) and 3-point percentage (.387). Her 3-point percentage also ties for fourth on UK's single season list.
Baseball: J.T. Riddle
Junior J.T. Riddle had one of the most prolific weekends in Kentucky baseball history, batting .786 (11-for-14) to open the year, with three doubles, one triple, one homer and six RBI ... Riddle collected 19 total bases, charted a 1.357 slugging and a .824 on-base percentage ... In a win on Sunday, Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6, three runs, three RBI game at the plate, including ripping a triple off the centerfield fence, finishing a homer shy of hitting for the cycle ... In the season opener, he pelted doubles off the left and rightfield walls in a 3-for-5 game ... In the finale of the weekend, Riddle went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs ... He had a walk and two hit by pitches, belting his first homer of the year as a no-doubt blast to spark a dramatic UK comeback win on Monday at USC Upstate.