Pitching Staff Serves as Cornerstone of Program

Feb. 2, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Throughout the history of softball, particularly on the collegiate level, a team can win championships behind a single dominating pitcher. Well, what can be said for a team with not just one, but four dynamic pitchers?

That's what head coach Rachel Lawson has at her disposal for a second-consecutive season. Led by the senior tandem of Rachel Riley and Chanda Bell and up-and-coming stars in sophomores Lauren Cumbess and Ellen Weaver, the Wildcats have four terrific pitching talents to disperse on opponents.

"Without question, the cornerstone of our program has been our pitching staff," Lawson said. "And, with all four starters returning, I believe that they will be able to buy our team the time that we need to gain the crucial experience required to compete against the nation's elite programs."

Riley and Bell have combined to form the most prolific tandem in school history with more than 80 combined wins. Both have also toppled top-ranked opponents, tossed perfect games and claimed post-season victories throughout their careers.

"I think it (having four talented pitchers) is something that most teams in the country won't have or don't have four that can do what we can do," Riley said. "I think if coach uses our strengths as pitchers to game plan against opponent's swings, we will be really good."

Weaver and Cumbess turned in quality freshmen seasons with a combined 12-3 record and ERAs below 3.00. The duo, much like Riley, can also provide a spark at the plate and are talented athletes who will see action in the field as well.

"There are many attributes about this staff that are not easily apparent to an outsider on game day," Lawson said. "It is their day-to-day preparation and their desire to compete at the World Series that drives them.

"All four not only have different pitches, but they are special people with unique competitive strengths. If we stay the course, 2012 might prove to be a breakout year for all four. Bell and Riley continue to add to their game, and there is no doubt in my mind that Cumbess and Weaver are ready to carry us throughout the season."

In addition to the abundance of aptitude among the quartet, they all sacrifice their own personal accolades for the betterment of the team.

"I want to be out there every inning I can, but it helps the team. Other hitters see three or four other pitchers and they can't adjust as well as if it was just two," Bell said. "It helps the team win, but it also helps me by giving me some rest."

During nearly every Southeastern Conference series in UK's record-breaking 2011 season, the opponent faced a new starter each game. That trend is sure to continue in 2012, with Kentucky posing even more threats as each hurler has developed additional options in their pitching rotations.

"I feel like in the past I have been pretty predictable when it comes to pitching and some of the teams could figure it out," Bell said. "This year I feel like I can mix it up a little more and throw some pitches I normally never throw."

If Kentucky wants to continue its meteoric rise among the nation's elite programs, the quartet will have to continue serving as the backbone of the team. The pitching staff is the only unit on the field that returns its entire rotation with each player seeing game action in 30 or more games in 2011.

"All of us have been to Super Regionals now and we have the taste in our mouth so I think definitely to get back there and get to the Women's College World Series is on everybody's mind," Riley said. "I think we just want to come out and start off where we ended last year and continue to build on that."