Softball Breaks Home Stretch, Travels to Louisville Wednesday
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After a successful weekend at John Cropp Stadium that included the University of Kentucky softball team's first-ever victory over a top-ranked team, the Wildcats break from a nine-game home stretch to travel to in-state rival Louisville on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. ET first pitch at Ulmer Stadium.
The midweek non-conference battle is the first of a two-game, home-and-home series between Kentucky (23-9) and Louisville (22-8). Live stats from the game will be available online at UKathletics.com, while the game will be live streamed on UofL's athletic website. The Cardinals will make a return trip to Lexington on April 21 for a 6 p.m. ET first pitch at John Cropp Stadium.
The Wildcats are coming off their first Southeastern Conference series win of the season, taking two of three games from the nation's top-ranked team in LSU. Kentucky claimed the series opener 3-1 before a 5-2 victory on Saturday to clinch the series. The Tigers defeated the Wildcats 2-0 in Sunday's series finale.
The wins for Kentucky were its first over a No. 1 ranked team and marked the fifth this season over a ranked opponent, including four over teams ranked inside the top 10 at the time UK faced them. The wins moved the Wildcats up a few spots to No. 13 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25 and tied for 14th in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25. UK has been ranked in 40 consecutive listings dating back to the 2013 season, which is a program record. Louisville is receiving votes in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25.
Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley was impressive over the weekend against the Tigers and earned SEC Co-Pitcher of the Week honors. Nunley was amazing for Kentucky in both a starting role and out of the bullpen against the top-ranked Tigers, who entered the series ranked fifth nationally in batting average and seventh in scoring. Overall, Nunley tossed 13.2 innings with only two earned runs allowed and 13 strikeouts. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., posted nine strikeouts Sunday, marking the first time this season a pitcher had struck out nine Tigers in a single game.
Sophomore Meagan Prince went 1-0 in the series tossing 4.1 scoreless innings with only two hits allowed, while freshman pitcher Erin Rethlake tossed three innings and allowed two earned runs with three strikeouts. Overall, the UK pitching staff limited LSU to two runs or less in all three games, while the Tigers entered the series having scored two runs or less in only one game.
Nunley is the leader in the circle for Kentucky overall with a 10-5 record and 1.77 ERA in 95 innings pitched with 84 strikeouts and opponents hitting just .210 against her. Rethlake is 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 36.2 innings pitched with 27 strikeouts and .235 opponent batting average, while Prince is 9-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 66.0 innings pitched with 59 strikeouts. Sophomore Shannon Smith is 1-0 this season with a 4.02 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched with 24 strikeouts.
Offensively, the Wildcats posted strong numbers against LSU, which entered the series ranked second in the nation in lowest ERA at 1.30. The LSU pitching staff had allowed three-plus runs in seven games entering the series with UK achieving that both Friday and Saturday. UK also posted six hits Friday and eight hits Saturday, marking only the eighth and ninth times this season the LSU staff had allowed six-plus hits in a game. The only other team to score three or more runs against LSU this season in back-to-back games was No. 2 Florida, the defending national champions.
Senior catcher Griffin Joiner led Kentucky by going 4-for-10 in the game with a home run and two RBI, while junior centerfielder Sylver Samuel was 3-for-8 with two runs scored, an RBI and stolen base. Junior shortstop Christian Stokes was 3-for-9 in the series and extend her hitting streak to a career-best seven games, while fellow junior infielder Nikki Sagermann hit her fifth home run of the season on Saturday.
Stokes leads Kentucky offensively with a .370 average, adding five doubles, one triple, six homers and 19 RBI, while Joiner is hitting .344 with five doubles, one triple, six homers and team-best 30 RBI. Junior utility player Maisie Steed is hitting .333 with five homers and 16 RBI, while Samuel is hitting .320 with a team-best 15 stolen bases and Sagermann has five homers and 17 RBI.
Louisville enters the game with a 22-8 record, including a 11-3 mark at home, 6-1 record in true road games and 5-4 listing in neutral-site games. The Cardinals are an impressive 11-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. UofL has won six straight games and 13 of its last 14 entering the midweek battle. The Cardinals are currently on an eight-game home stand, which will conclude with Wednesday's game vs. Kentucky.
Offensively, the Cardinals are hitting .354 as a team with 209 runs scored and 30 home runs. Senior outfielder Kelsi Jones leads the team with a .466 average with 15 doubles, one triple, two homers, 26 RBI and 12 stolen bases. Sophomore outfielder Jordan McNary is hitting .420 with a home run and 10 RBI, while sophomore pitcher/infielder Maryssa Becker is hitting .407 with 11 doubles, five homers and 30 RBI. Junior outfielder Brittany Sims also has five homers and 14 RBI, while senior Whitney Arion has four homers and 27 RBI.
Becker and freshman Shelby McCombs have very similar numbers in the circle for the Cardinals. Becker is 8-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 79.1 innings pitched with 78 strikeouts, while McCombs is 8-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 70 innings pitched with 47 strikeouts. Freshman Madi Norman is 6-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 46.2 innings pitched with 25 strikeouts, while freshman Bridgette Flaherty has tossed three innings with a 4.67 ERA.
Louisville leads the all-time series between the two schools in softball 18-16 including an 11-4 record over the Wildcats during head coach Rachel Lawson's tenure. The Wildcats have won three straight games in the series. Last season, UK swept the two-game, home-and-home series with the Cardinals for the first time since 2003. The Wildcats defeated UofL 5-0 at John Cropp Stadium early in the season before a 7-3 victory at Louisville. UK's win at Louisville last year was its first since 2006.
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Kentucky 23-9, 3-6 SEC
Louisville 22-8, 11-1 ACC
Kentucky -- No. 13 in NFCA/USA Today Top 25; No. 14 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Louisville -- Receiving votes in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Kentucky at Louisville -- 6 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- Live Video