Softball Continues Tough Stretch, Heads South for No. 3 Florida
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With three wins the last two weekends against top-five ranked teams, the No. 13 University of Kentucky softball team's schedule doesn't get any easier this weekend, as the Wildcats travel to face the defending national champions and No. 3 ranked Florida for a three-game Southeastern Conference series at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Florida (37-4, 8-4 SEC) is the third consecutive top-five conference foe for the Wildcats, who started this tough run by taking two of three games over No. 1 LSU before a win last weekend over No. 5 Alabama. Kentucky is the only team in the conference so far this season to face three straight top-five ranked conference foes. UK, which started league play at then-No. 20 Texas A&M and at then-No. 9 Auburn, will conclude SEC play against South Carolina, who is receiving votes, No. 12/12 Georgia and No. 11/14 Tennessee.
The three-game series vs. Florida starts Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, before a 3 p.m. ET showdown on Sunday and 7 p.m. ET series finale Monday. Saturday and Sunday's games will be broadcast through WatchESPN on the SEC Network+, while Monday's finale will be televised nationally on the SEC Network with Adam Amin and former Texas A&M All-American Amanda Scarborough calling the action.
Kentucky (27-11, 4-8 SEC) was scheduled to face Marshall on Wednesday in a midweek non-conference battle before inclement weather caused a three-hour delay that eventually canceled the game. The Wildcats swept a doubleheader against Florida Atlantic on Monday, taking game one, 3-1, before a 7-1 victory in the second game. The wins over FAU, who has been receiving votes in the national rankings a majority of the season and rank 38th nationally in the NCAA RPI, moved Kentucky's home record to 10-3 this season, including 7-0 in non-conference home games.
Sophomore pitcher Meagan Prince was impressive in the circle in game one, tossing a complete game with only one earned run allowed on five hits with five strikeouts. Prince received the win in the circle, moving to 11-4 on the year with a 2.86 earned run average. The outing continued an impressive run for Prince over the last nine games. Since having her worst outing of the year in late March at Auburn, Prince has earned a win in each of her last three appearances, tossing 16.2 innings during that stretch with only two earned runs allowed and 15 strikeouts, limiting opponents to a .172 average.
Fellow sophomore pitcher Shannon Smith started the second game and went 3.2 innings with one run allowed on three hits and two strikeouts in a no decision, while freshman pitcher Erin Rethlake got the final out of the fourth inning and tossed a clean fifth and sixth innings to get the win and move to 4-0 on the year. Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley tossed the final inning of the day, allowing a hit and a walk before sealing the UK sweep.
Offensively, junior Nikki Sagermann paced Kentucky in both games, going 4-for-6 on the day with two runs scored and two walks, while sophomore outfielder Breanne Ray was 3-for-7 with a run scored. Senior outfielder Kara Howard had two doubles on the day with a run scored, while junior infielder Ansley Smith had two hits and two RBI. Junior utility player Maisie Steed had a two-run double, while juniors Christian Stokes and Sylver Samuel each had RBI. Junior outfielder Darington Richardson went 1-for-1 with a stolen base.
Stokes leads Kentucky in hitting this season at .358 with six doubles, one triple, six homers, 21 RBI and eight stolen baes, while Steed is at .323 with five doubles, five homers, 20 RBI and seven stolen bases. Senior catcher Griffin Joiner is hitting .314 with five doubles, one triple, six homers and 30 RBI, while Samuel is the only other Wildcat hitting over .300 with a .302 average and team-best 17 stolen bases. Sagermann and Ray each have five home runs this year with Sagermann adding 17 RBI and Ray 22 RBI.
Nunley is the leader in the circle with an 11-7 record and 1.87 ERA in 116.0 innings pitched with 102 strikeouts. Rethlake is 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA in 40 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts, while Prince is 11-4 with a 2.86 ERA in 78.1 innings pitched with 69 strikeouts. Shannon Smith is 1-0 with a 3.33 ERA in 21 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts.
Kentucky held on to its No. 13 national ranking in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25, while it dropped one spot to No. 15 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25. The rankings mark the 41st consecutive national ranking that included the Wildcats, which is a program record.
The Wildcats have played 16 games against ranked foes already with a 6-10 record, besting then-No. 5 Florida State, then-No. 10 Arizona, then-No. 20 Texas A&M and most recently two games vs. No. 1 LSU and one game vs. then-No. 5 Alabama. UK has 13 games remaining this season against teams either ranked or receiving votes in either poll, including three-game sets with No. 3/3 Florida, No. 12/12 Georgia, No. 11/14 Tennessee and South Carolina, who is receiving votes. UK is also scheduled to play a home games vs. WKU, who is receiving votes in both listings.
Kentucky has 15 regular-season games left in 2015 with 13 of those games coming against teams that rank top 50 in the most recent NCAA RPI that was released Monday. UK has nine games left vs. RPI Top 25 teams and six games vs. RPI Top 15 teams.
Florida, the defending national champions that enter the weekend ranked No. 3 in both national rankings and No. 1 in the NCAA RPI, rank high nationally in several areas, including eighth in scoring, fourth in earned run average and 21st in fielding percentage. The Gators are 37-4 overall this season with a 16-2 mark at home. UF is 8-4 in conference play with two losses to No. 1 LSU and one loss each to highly ranked Alabama and Mississippi State, who has been receiving votes in the national rankings all season.
Offensively, the Gators are hitting .315 as a team with 309 runs scored and 57 home runs. Junior infielder Kelsey Stewart leads the team with a .428 average, adding 14 doubles, six triples, one homer, 31 RBI and 19 stolen bases, while senior pitcher/infielder Lauren Haeger is hitting .339 with six doubles, a team-best 12 homers and 44 RBI and a .704 slugging percentage. Senior outfielder Bailey Castro is hitting .364 in 88 at-bats with 11 homers and 24 RBI, while junior utility player Taylore Fuller has nine homers and 39 RBI. Junior outfielder Kirsti Merritt is hitting .330 this season with eight homers and 31 RBI with 14 stolen bases.
Haeger is the leader in the circle for the Gators, sitting 17-0 on the season with a 1.17 ERA in 101.1 innings pitched with only 17 earned runs allowed and 128 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .185 against Haeger, while freshman Aleshia Ocasio is limiting opponents to a .190 average with a 12-3 record and 1.47 ERA in 95 innings pitched with 116 strikeouts. Sophomore Delanie Gourley is 8-1 this year with a 2.32 ERA in 60.1 innings pitched with 81 strikeouts.
Florida leads the all-time series against Kentucky 42-13, including a 10-7 record over the Wildcats during Rachel Lawson's tenure. The two teams did not meet last season and last met in 2013 in a three-game series in Lexington. The Gators won the opening game of the set with UK evening the series Saturday before the Gators clinched the series in Sunday's finale. The weekend series was the opening dedication of John Cropp Stadium. The last series between the two teams in Gainesville was in 2012 when the Wildcats took two of three from the Gators.
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Kentucky 27-11, 4-8 SEC
Florida 37-4, 8-4 SEC
Kentucky -- No. 13 USA Today/NFCA Top 25; No. 15 ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Florida -- No. 3 USA Today/NFCA Top 25; No. 3 ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Saturday, April 11
Kentucky at Florida -- 4 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network+
Sunday, April 12
Kentucky at Florida -- 3 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network+
Monday, April 13
Kentucky at Florida -- 7 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network+