UPDATE: Tournament Schedule Changes for Softball
UPDATE (Feb. 28 - 10 a.m.): The tournament scheduule has gone through another round of changes as of Friday morning at 10 a.m. ET. The UK-Butler game for Friday is still scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, while Saturday and Sunday's schedule has changed. The updated schedule is posted below.
LEXINGTON, Ky. - After an impressive run through a 15-game road trip to start the season, the No. 8 University of Kentucky softball team is set to begin its 2014 home slate on Friday against Butler at 3 p.m. ET at John Cropp Stadium as part of a three-day tournament featuring UK, Butler, EKU and Pittsburgh.
Kentucky (13-2) will play four games in the round-robin tournament, which will feature seven games total over the weekend. UK and Butler (4-9) start the weekend with Friday's 3 p.m. home opener, before a heavy slate of games on Saturday. UK and Pittsburgh (7-7) begin Saturday's schedule with an 11 a.m. contest, followed by Pittsburgh and EKU (6-6) at 1 p.m., Kentucky and Butler at 3 p.m., and EKU and Butler at 5 p.m. The tournament concludes Sunday with Pittsburgh and Butler at Noon and Kentucky and EKU at 2 p.m. All times are Eastern.
Admission to every game of the tournament will be free of charge. Live stats from every game will be available online at UKathletics.com, while live video (subscription required) will be available for UK's games on UKathletics.com. The tournament was originally scheduled for 10 games over three days, including seeded play Saturday and Sunday, but projected inclement weather in the Central Kentucky area this weekend led to changes in the schedule.
Kentucky enters the weekend with its best record through 15 games in school history at 13-2. The Wildcats started the season on a 12-game winning streak, which was the best start in school history and longest winning streak ever. UK, which started the season with 15 straight games away from John Cropp Stadium, played quality competition during the stretch, playing four games against teams that advanced to the Women's College World Series last season. UK went 3-1 against those teams, taking down then-No. 2 and defending national champion Oklahoma, while posting two wins over then-No. 15 Texas before falling to top-five ranked Michigan last weekend.
UK's strong start has come behind strong pitching, hitting and fielding. Through 15 games, UK has some of the best numbers in school history, according to game-by-game records available back to the 2005 season. UK's 2.06 combined earned run average is third best in program history, while its five shutouts are the second most. The pitching staff has limited opponents to only 13 extra-base hits this season, which are the fewest UK has ever allowed through 15 games.
Senior pitcher Lauren Cumbess paces UK in the circle with a 4-0 record and 1.80 ERA, striking out 25 in 30 innings pitched, while sophomore Kelsey Nunley is 5-1 with a 2.70 ERA, posting 40 strikeouts in 50 innings pitched. UK's two rookie pitchers have started well this season with Shannon Smith sitting 2-1 with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings pitched and Meagan Prince holding a 2-0 record with a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings pitched.
The Wildcat offense has been just as impressive as its 22 doubles, 16 home runs and .481 slugging percentage rank second best in program history through the first 15 games of season, while it has limited its strikeouts with the third fewest ever through 15 games. Junior catcher Griffin Joiner is the leader of the offense with a .405 (17-for-42) average, including three doubles, six homers and 14 RBI. Joiner's six homers are the second most through 15 games in school history and currently is tops in the Southeastern Conference.
Senior outfielder Emily Gaines is second on the team with a .400 (6-for-15) average, while fellow senior Ginny Carroll and sophomores Christian Stokes and Sylver Samuel are hitting .333 with Carroll adding two homers and Stokes four doubles. Samuel has a team-high three stolen bases this season. Senior Emily Jolly and Lauren Cumbess sit second on the team with nine RBI each, while Jolly has four homers.
Defensively, UK has shown strong improvements so far in 2014, sitting third in the SEC in fielding percentage at .981. The high fielding percentage is the second highest in program history, while UK's nine errors is the second fewest at this point in a season and its three stolen bases allowed are the lowest in school history through 15 games.
Butler comes to the Bluegrass State with a 4-9 record after playing in the Music City Classic, Woo-Pig Classic and Frost Classic the past few weekends. The Bulldogs have wins over Radford, Austin Peay, Belmont and East Tennessee State. Butler returns 12 letterwinners from last season after finishing seventh in the A-10 Conference with a 22-24 overall record.
Pittsburgh enters the weekend with a 7-7 record with wins over several teams UK has also defeated this season. UK and Pittsburgh both have wins over Loyola Marymount and Penn State in 2014, while the Panthers have also played Oklahoma, Kent State and Michigan. The Panthers fell to Oklahoma and Michigan, but defeated Kent State last weekend at the FAU Invitational. Pittsburgh returns 12 letterwinners from last season's team that finished 11th in the Big East with an overall record of 19-29.
EKU starts the tournament with a 6-6 record after two of its games last weekend in the Cardinal Classic were canceled due to weather. The Colonels went 2-1 at the Cardinal Classic with wins over Central Michigan and Louisville, which began the season ranked in the top 20 nationally. EKU started its season in the Mercer Invitational, defeating Florida A&M twice, before playing in the Samford Invitational the next weekend, where it posted wins over Evansville and Belmont. The Colonels return 13 letterwinners from last season's 36-20 team that finished first in the OVC.
Kentucky holds a 22-7 all-time record against the field this weekend, including a 17-7 mark vs. EKU, 4-0 record vs. Butler and 1-0 mark against Pittsburgh. Kentucky and EKU met twice last season with the Wildcats claiming both games of the doubleheader in Richmond, Ky. The Wildcats defeated the Colonels 6-2 in the first game of the doubleheader last season with the win making head coach Rachel Lawson the winningest head coach in program history. Kentucky last played Butler in 2007, while its lone meeting with Pittsburgh came in 2010.
This weekend's tournament begins a stretch for UK where it will play 19 of its next 27 games at John Cropp Stadium, including a 15-game home stand from March 21 to April 9.
For the latest on UK softball, follow @UKSoftball on Twitter and Instagram or like Kentucky Softball on Facebook.
Kentucky - No. 8 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25; No. 8 in USA Today/NFCA Top 25
Butler - not ranked
Pittsburgh - not ranked
EKU - not ranked
Friday, Feb. 28
Kentucky vs. Butler - 3 p.m. ET - Live Stats
Sunday, March 2
Pittsburgh vs. EKU - Noon ET - Live Stats
Kentucky vs. Pittsburgh - 2 p.m. ET - Live Stats
Admission to every game this weekend at John Cropp Stadium is free of charge.
The entire UK team will sign autographs following the games on Saturday and Sunday.