No. 9 Softball Faces Tough Road Test At No. 16 Missouri
March 13, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the midst of an eight-game road trip as the only Southeastern Conference school this season to start league action with two consecutive road series, the No. 9 University of Kentucky softball team heads north to Columbia, Mo., this weekend to take on No. 16 Missouri at University Field.
The three-game series begins Friday with a 7:30 p.m. first pitch before a 3 p.m. start on Saturday and 1 p.m. series finale on Sunday. Live stats from all three games will be available on UKathletics.com, while live video streaming (subscription required) will be available at the links provided below. All times are Eastern.
Kentucky (19-3, 2-1 SEC) began this eight-game road swing last weekend in Starkville, Miss., taking two of three games from Mississippi State, who is receiving votes in both national rankings. It marked the first time in program history UK has started league play on the road with a series win. UK followed the historic series win with a non-conference win at Marshall on Tuesday, 6-2. The tough road stretch concludes next Tuesday as UK travels to Bloomington, Ind., for a non-conference game with the Hoosiers at 5 p.m. ET.
The Wildcats will return from Indiana to start a 15-game home stand, beginning a stretch of 21 of its next 25 games at home. Included in the home stretch is a three-day, round-robin tournament at John Cropp Stadium next weekend featuring Kentucky, Kent State, Saint Francis (Pa.), Fairfield and Kansas. Head coach Rachel Lawson and Co. will also play four home SEC series during that stretch.
UK's series win against the Bulldogs marked the third time in the last four seasons that UK has won its opening series of league action. Sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley was the star for UK in the circle, throwing 14 scoreless innings, including her second career no-hitter in game one. For the weekend, Nunley went 2-0, allowing only three hits with nine strikeouts with opponents hitting just .068 against her. Overall, Nunley is 7-1 this season with a 2.00 earned run average, striking out 53 in 67.2 innings pitched.
Senior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess gave UK a strong all-around performance at Marshall on Tuesday, tossing a complete game in the circle while adding two hits and an RBI. The native of Normal, Ill., is 5-0 on the year with a 2.11 ERA, striking out 26 batters in 24.1 innings pitched. Freshmen pitchers Meagan Prince and Shannon Smith are having good seasons with Prince sitting 5-1 with a 1.85 ERA, while Smith is 2-1 with a 1.08 ERA.
Offensively, Kentucky has been led this season by junior catcher Griffin Joiner, who is hitting .383 (23-for-60) with three doubles and team highs in home runs with six and RBI with 14. Sophomore speedsters Darington Richardson and Sylver Samuel are second and fourth respectively in batting average with Richardson posting two triples and Samuel leading the team with three stolen bases. Senior Emily Gaines is third in average at .345 (10-for-29) with a home run and seven RBI, while Cumbess has a team-best five doubles with 12 RBI. Senior outfielders Emily Jolly and Ginny Carroll have helped provide the power for UK this season, sitting second and third on the team in homers with five and three, respectively.
Kentucky currently ranks second in the SEC with a .982 fielding percentage, which would be the highest fielding percentage in school history. UK has committed only 12 errors this season and is an impressive 13-0 in 2014 when it does not commit and error.
Missouri (15-5, 1-2 SEC) enters this weekend ranked No. 16/18 in the nation having won eight of its last 10 games. The Tigers dropped their opening SEC series last weekend to highly ranked Texas A&M. After winning the series opener Friday, MU fell 11-2 on Saturday and 4-3 in extra innings Sunday. The Tigers swept a doubleheader at Evansville on Tuesday in non-conference play.
MU has been led offensively this season by sophomore outfielder Taylor Gadbois, who is hitting .484 (30-for-62) with a .536 on-base percentage and 19 stolen bases. Sophomore infielder/outfielder Emily Crane is hitting .403 (25-for-62) with four doubles, three homers and 22 RBI, while junior infielder Kelsea Roth and senior outfielder Mackenzie Sykes each have four home runs.
In the circle, freshman Tori Finucane paces the team with a 1.33 ERA, striking out 40 in 52.2 innings pitched. Finucane has a 6-3 record on the year, while fellow freshman Casey Stangel is 7-2 with a 2.15 ERA in 55.1 innings pitched with 30 strikeouts. Senior Alora Marble is 2-0 with a 3.61 ERA in 21.1 innings pitched.
The Tigers have played seven games against top-25 teams this season, sitting 2-5 in those games with wins over Arizona and Texas A&M and losses to Baylor (twice), UCLA and Texas A&M (twice). This weekend's games are the first home games of the season for Missouri after starting the year on a 20-game road trip.
Missouri leads the all-time series against Kentucky 5-3, including winning two of three last season in Lexington. Last season's series was the first meeting between the two schools as conference foes. The Tigers won game one of the series 2-1, before UK evened the series with an 8-2 victory in game two. The Tigers clinched the series with a 7-0 victory in the rubbermatch.
Prior to last season, the two teams had met five times. In UK's inaugural season in 1997 it played Missouri twice, dropping both contests, while MU also took down UK in 1999. Kentucky defeated Missouri twice in 2003 in a tournament in Monroe, La., which was the last meeting of the schools before last season's series.
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Kentucky 19-3, 2-1 SEC
Missouri 15-5, 1-2 SEC
Kentucky - No. 11 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25; No. 9 in NFCA/USA Today Top 25
Missouri - No. 18 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25; No. 16 in NFCA/USA Today Top 25