Pitching Depth Positioning Cats for Big Season

Ever since Kentucky made its first trip to the Women’s College World Series, Rachel Lawson has known developing pitching depth was imperative. For her program to take the next step and compete for a national championship, it was a must.

A month into the 2016 season, it might be happening.

Meagan Prince twirled a gem in UK’s home opener, pitching the No. 15 Wildcats to a 3-1 win over Indiana (11-8) on Wednesday night.

“I had really good command of all my pitches tonight,” Prince said. “That’s not always the case, but tonight it was. I was able to put the pitches where I wanted them and that gave Coach a little more leeway to call what she thought was best.”

The lefthander struck out nine and ran her record on the season to 9-0 with the dominant performance.  Behind Prince, UK moved to 19-3, the best record through 22 games in school history.

“She’s night and day different from last year,” Lawson said. “She has awesome command on all of her pitches. She can throw both sides of the plate now and everything is so crisp. I really believe she’s emerged as a dominant pitcher and tonight she was really one inning away from having another no-hitter.”

Her night was impressive, but it was far from an outlier in what is shaping up to be a breakout season for the junior. Prince had two no-hitters prior to Wednesday night and took a perfect game into the seventh and final inning, but neither she nor her teammates were talking about it.

“I knew I was doing well, but I knew I had to keep doing well in order to hold that win,” Prince said.

Pinch hitter Kassi Farmer would foil the perfect-game bid when she beat out an infield hit after Christian Stokes made a diving stop and nearly threw her out at first.

“It was disappointing,” Lawson said. “In fact, it kind of took the air out of our sails in the seventh inning. But she’s a great pitcher and every time she goes out on the field right now we have a shot at getting a dominant performance out of her. But you always want the perfect game.” 

Two of Prince’s teammates – Erin Rethlake and Shannon Smith – have no-hitters this season as well, which makes this UK team the first in school history to have three pitchers with no-hitters. And perhaps most incredibly, one of them isn’t Kelsey Nunley, the ace who pitched UK to that Women’s College World Series berth.

“It gives us so many options to pitch who we think is best against a certain team,” Prince said. “We have depth in the bullpen. Knowing that you have somebody behind you that’s just as good that can pull it through.” 

Nunley replaced Prince after the Hoosiers scratched across a run with two outs in the seventh. She struck out the lone batter she faced to pick up her first save of the season. In prior years, UK likely would have needed Nunley to get all 21 outs. She was only needed for one on Wednesday.

“It’s pretty nice, because we can start any our pitchers on a given day and depending on how the game is going we can easily insert somebody else,” Lawson said. “It’s a nice position to be in because we haven’t always been in this situation.”