No. 15 Softball Hosts No. 1 LSU for 2015 SEC Home Opener
LEXINGTON, Ky. - After starting the season with 24 of its first 29 games on the road, including each of its first two Southeastern Conference series, the No. 15 University of Kentucky softball team starts a stretch of 17 of its next 22 games at John Cropp Stadium on Friday when it plays host to No. 1 LSU at 6 p.m. ET.
The three-game series will be the SEC home opener for Kentucky (21-8, 1-5 SEC). UK and LSU (31-1, 5-1 SEC) will begin the series Friday at 6 p.m. ET before a Noon ET start on Saturday and 1 p.m. ET series finale on Sunday. Friday and Sunday's games will be televised on the SEC Network+ through the WatchESPN app, with Dave Baker and former Purdue head coach, Louisville associate head coach and Michigan assistant coach Carol Bruggeman calling the action. Saturday's game will be televised nationally on the SEC Network with Cara Capuano and Olympic Gold Medalist Michele Smith on the call. Live stats from all three games will be available online at UKathletics.com.
Single-game tickets are available and are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors (ages 65 or older) and youth (ages 6-18), while children ages five and under will be admitted free of charge. Tickets are available by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets. Tickets will be sold - cash only - on game days at the ticket booths outside John Cropp Stadium with gates opening one hour prior to first pitch.
New for 2015 is the Family Fun Packs, which are available for Saturday and Sunday SEC games. Fans can purchase four tickets (two adult, two youth) and four food vouchers (each valid for a hotdog and small soda) for only $30. Family Fun Packs must be purchased in advance by calling the ticket office at 1-800-928-2287.
Other promotions at John Cropp Stadium over the weekend include the first 100 fans Friday receiving a limited edition set of 2015 UK softball trading cards. Saturday and Sunday are Family Fun Days at the park, featuring pregame and postgame youth activities, including face painting, hair bow making, inflatables, autographs and pictures with the team. After Sunday's game - weather permitting - all kids eighth grade and younger can run the bases.
Students that present a valid UK ID will receive free admission to all three games. A pregame block party will be held for students Friday and begin one hour before the game, featuring free food, giveaways, music, door prizes and more. A shuttle bus will run for students at the Wildcat Alumni Plaza (across from Memorial Coliseum) and The 90 at South Campus before and after the game.
Kentucky is coming off a stretch of nine games in nine days, including five of those games on the road. The Wildcats went 6-3 during that stretch, winning the first five games to extend its season-best winning streak to eight games, which tied the third-longest winning streak in program history. The stretch started with UK sweeping a three-game series against Ohio before a doubleheader sweep of Murray State and a victory over Indiana. The week ended with UK dropping all three games at highly ranked Auburn.
Kentucky enters the weekend ranked No. 15 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Preseason Top 25 and No. 16 in the USA Today/NFCA Preseason Top 25. The Wildcats have played 10 games against ranked foes already with a 3-7 record, besting then-No. 5 Florida State, then-No. 10 Arizona and most recently No. 20 Texas A&M.
UK has 21 games remaining this season against teams either ranked or receiving votes in either poll, including three-game sets with No. 1/1 LSU, No. 2/3 Florida, No. 5/5 Alabama, No. 7/7 Georgia, No. 15/18 Tennessee and South Carolina, who is receiving votes. UK is also scheduled to play two games vs. Florida Atlantic and Louisville, who are receiving votes, and a single game vs. WKU, who is receiving votes in bot listings.
Kentucky, who was listed at No. 20 in the first NCAA RPI that came out Monday, has 25 regular-season games left in 2015 with 23 of those games coming against NCAA RPI Top 50 teams, including nine games vs. RPI Top 5 teams and 15 games vs. RPI Top 15 teams.
Offensively, Kentucky has been led by junior shortstop Christian Stokes, who is hitting .374 (37-for-99) with five doubles, one triple, six homers and 18 RBI, while fellow junior utility player Maisie Steed is hitting .348 (24-for-69) with three doubles, five homers and 16 RBI. Stokes has eight multi-hit games this season, including seven games of three or more hits, while Steed has been on a hot streak the past few weeks with a hit in 18 of her last 23 games, including a home run in five of her last 11 games.
Senior catcher Griffin Joiner and junior outfielder Sylver Samuel are the only other Wildcats to have a .300+ average this season with Joiner hitting .338 (27-for-80) with five homers and a team-best 28 RBI, while Samuel has a .315 (28-for-89) average with a team-high 14 stolen bases. Junior Nikki Sagermann and sophomore Breanne Ray each have four home runs.
Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley paces the Wildcats with a 9-4 record and 1.89 ERA, striking out 71 batters in 81.1 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting just .204 against Nunley, who has six complete games and two saves. Freshman Erin Rethlake is 3-0 this season with a 1.25 ERA in 33.2 innings pitched and 24 strikeouts, while sophomore Meagan Prince is 8-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 61.2 innings pitched with 54 strikeouts. Sophomore Shannon Smith is1-0 this year with a 4.02 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched with 24 strikeouts.
LSU enters the weekend with an impressive 31-1 record, including a 24-0 mark at home, 2-1 record in true road games and 5-0 posting in neutral-site games. The Tigers started the season on a 25-game winning streak before falling to then-No. 1 Florida in Gainesville. LSU came back to win the final two games of the series to claim the No. 1 spot in the country. Last weekend, LSU defeated No. 6 Oklahoma twice at Tiger Park before taking down No. 24 South Alabama on Tuesday in a midweek non-conference battle. LSU is 8-1 this season against ranked foes.
The Tigers are paced by a high-powered offense that is hitting .365 with 251 runs scored and 35 home runs, while the LSU pitching staff has been impressive as well, limiting opponents to a .185 average and only allowed 37 earned runs in 199.2 innings pitched.
Offensively, Bianka Bell - the SEC Player of the Week each of the last two weeks - leads the team with a .554 average, adding 12 doubles, 12 homers and a team-best 50 RBI, while Bailey Landry is hitting .468 with eight doubles and 25 RBI. Sahvanna Jaquish leads the team with 13 home runs and 49 RBI, while A.J. Andrews has a team-best 14 stolen bases and a .458 average.
In the circle, Carly Hoover has a team-high 57.2 innings pitched with an 8-1 record and 1.46 ERA, while Baylee Corbello is 7-0 with a 1.18 ERA in 41.2 innings pitched and 44 strikeouts. Allie Walljasper is 9-0 with a 1.22 ERA in 57.1 innings pitched with 56 strikeouts, while Kelsee Selman is 7-0 with a 1.30 ERA in 43 innings pitched with 59 strikeouts.
LSU leads the all-time series against Kentucky 35-7. Before Lawson arrived at Kentucky, the Wildcats had only defeated the Tigers once in program history, while Lawson has six wins against the Tigers. This is the first three-game series between the two schools since the Tigers swept the Wildcats at Tiger Park in 2013. The Wildcats played the Tigers last season in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, defeating the Tigers 4-3 in nine innings. Kentucky has won four of the last seven games in the series, including a three-game sweep of the Tigers in Lexington in 2012.
For more information on the Kentucky softball team, follow @UKSoftball on Twitter or Instagram or Kentucky Softball on Facebook.
Kentucky 21-8, 1-5 SEC
LSU 31-1, 5-1 SEC
Kentucky - No. 16 in NFCA/USA Today Top 25; No. 15 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
LSU - No. 1 in NFCA/USA Today Top 25; No. 1 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Friday, March 27
LSU at Kentucky - 6 p.m. ET - Live Stats - SEC Network+
Saturday, March 28
LSU at Kentucky - Noon ET - Live Stats - SEC Network
Sunday, March 29
LSU at Kentucky - 1 p.m. ET - Live Stats - SEC Network+