2010 UK Softball Preview
Feb. 8, 2010
LEXINGTON, Ky. - At the beginning of 2009 many fans, coaches and players in the softball world knew Rachel Lawson and the Wildcats were on the verge of a breakthrough season. Only those directly involved with the University of Kentucky could predict the revolution the 2009 season would become. After what can be categorized as the most successful season in Kentucky history, Lawson's 2010 edition is reloaded and reenergized for a continued upward climb.
Kentucky leaped into the middle of the pack in the ever-grueling Southeastern Conference in 2009 after being slated to finish last by the league's coaches in a preseason poll. UK capped the regular season as the sixth best team in the conference and then waltzed into the SEC Tournament and knocked off top-10 ranked and eventual College World Series participant, Georgia 2-0, in what became UK's first-ever post season victory. UK then continued to add to its already successful season with the first NCAA appearance in school history. UK went 2-2 in the tournament and eventually dropped a heartbreaker to Ohio State for the right to advance to an NCAA Super Regional.
The 2010 team returns all eight of its position starters and the three pitchers in its starting rotation. Kentucky's first All-America selection in school history, Molly Johnson, returns to headline a squad full of veterans who now understand the discipline, hard work and effort it takes to win in the SEC after experiencing the thrill a season ago.
An obstacle does loom large for this year's squad. No longer is there an element of surprise - as teams are fully aware of the talent Kentucky possesses. UK knocked off three ranked opponents a year ago and staged five seventh inning comeback efforts while facing a top-five ranked schedule.
"Last year was very successful and we were able to make tremendous strides as a team and as individuals," Lawson said. "We know we can win big games, but we cannot become overly confident and expect to win with the schedule that we have this season."
Kentucky once again faces a top-five schedule and will meet 16 NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago, and four who were a part of the Women's College World series. The SEC had a record-breaking nine teams advance to the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and once again UK will face all 10 conference opponents this season as the SEC continues to reign was one of the toughest conferences in the nation.
"It may sound cliché, but when you play in the SEC you face the best competition in the nation," Lawson added. "In preparing for the SEC we must face tough teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule and we will continue to do that."
The Wildcats made improvements in every area of the game from Lawson's first season to her second, and will need to continue to strengthen its numbers if UK wants to return as one of the best teams in the conference to the league tournament in Fayetteville, Ark., at the end of the season. With a remarkable fall of training and continued improvement in the weight room, Kentucky is poised for another successful run.
Kentucky will enjoy the returns of its starting three pitchers from a season ago in Chanda Bell, Amber Matousek and Rachel Riley. The rotation combined for one of the best earned run averages and strikeout numbers in school history. As a unit they totaled a 2.91 ERA and struck out 315 batters.
Bell shined in the early going of the season as she set the single-game record with 15 strikeouts in multiple outings. The true freshman rang up a sparkling 19-8 record in her first collegiate season before charting the single-season record for strikeouts with 216 on the year. A mid-season leg injury forced her out of the rotation and she never truly regained form despite earning an NCAA post-season victory over BYU. After a strong fall season, her return will be a major factor in UK's success in 2010.
Riley stepped into the role of hero once Bell was sidelined. The second true freshman to shine in the rotation saw limited action in the early going of the season before enjoying a breakout performance against top ranked Florida in April. Riley held the Gators to just one hit in eight innings before a fielding error allowed the No. 1 team in the land to escape with a 1-0 victory. Riley finished the year with a 7-8 record, but topped the team with an impressive 2.35 ERA.
Matousek, the lone upperclassman, has continued to improve in each season under Lawson. She is a veteran leader who has tallied over 25 wins in her career. As a junior she claimed her best record as a starter with an 8-7 mark and the best ERA of her career, while adding 61 strikeouts. Kentucky will rely on her consistency and continued upward climbs in 2010.
Johnson anchors the infield at her starting shortstop position. She has started every game of her career and ranks among UK's all-time bests in a number of categories including possessing a .395 lifetime career batting average. The senior should cap her career as the top producer in several more offensive categories before all is said in done. A three-time All-SEC performer, Johnson will look to finish her career on a high note.
Senior Natalie Smith has been a stalwart at second base since her arrival. She has started 150 games in her career at the position and also ranks among one of the best statistical players in school history. As a junior, Smith posted a .255 batting average and tallied seven extra base hits, including her first career walk-off home run with a solo shot to upset top-15 ranked Tennessee.
Junior Samantha DeMartine began her first season as a full-time starter at first base a year ago and produced a .979 fielding percentage while setting the single-game school record in putouts with 19 on two occasions. DeMartine added four home runs and 22 runs batted in from the plate.
Sophomore Brittany Cervantes started 57 games as a true freshman with most of those nods coming at third base. Cervantes also saw time at catcher and at first base. The first-year player led the team with 10 home runs and posted the second most RBI with 35.
Junior Megan Yocke anchors the infield from her post at catcher. As a sophomore she earned All-SEC second team honors and was an All-Region selection after a season in which she batted .321 and led the team with 37 RBI. Additionally, she was nearly flawless in the field with a .997 fielding percentage. Yocke has also started every game of her career in the Blue and White to add even more veteran leadership.
Riley will add to the rotation after seeing time at second base in her first season, although her main duties will be from the circle. Sophomore Ashleigh Gustafson and redshirt freshman Jessica Adkins saw limited action in their first seasons, but will also contribute to the infield.
Freshmen Kara Dill and Jessica Rose complete the infield rotation. Dill was a standout player in Ohio capping her high school career as the most prolific batter in school history with a .565 career batting average. Rose was the offensive most valuable player on her high school squad after charting 28 RBI and a .415 batting average as a senior.
Kentucky's starting rotation of Annie Rowlands in left field, Meagan Aull in center field and Destinee Mordecai in right field return from a season ago. Aull led the squad with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage for the season from her center slot. Aull was also terrific offensively batting .321 for the season while leading the squad with 26 stolen bases.
Rowlands and Mordecai started every game a season ago. The duo combined for over 100 putouts. Both players had a fielding percentage about .940 to aid the defensive cause, while both players charted their best batting averages of their careers in 2009.
Sophomore Macy Allen saw limited action in the field, but she was UK's top base runner. Allen scored 12 times while also adding four stolen bases in pinch running situations. Senior Jennifer Young also saw action on the base paths a season ago, scoring three times. Sophomore Erika Silence can play in the outfield and catch. As a first-year player she saw 20 plate appearances and hit two extra base hits while bringing in three runs. All three players will add to the outfield rotation in 2010.Freshman Alice O'Brien is the final piece of the outfield rotation. Kentucky's newcomer is a high school state champion and was a top-25 ranked team in the nation. She batted .317 in her senior season while bringing in 17 runs and swiping 18 bases.