Softball Starts 8-Game Homestand vs. South Carolina
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Looking to end its 2015 regular-season home schedule on a high note, the No. 14 University of Kentucky softball team wraps up its home portion of the 2015 schedule with an eight-game homestretch, starting this weekend with a three-game Southeastern Conference series against South Carolina at John Cropp Stadium.
The series begins Friday at 6 p.m. ET before a 3 p.m. ET start on Saturday and 1 p.m. ET series finale on Sunday. All three games will be available through WatchESPN on the SEC Network+, while live stats from all three games will be available online at UKathletics.com. Former UK outfielder Ginny Carroll will provide the color commentary for all three games, with Dick Gabriel on the play-by-play call Friday night, while Mark Buerger will have the call Saturday and Dave "Buzz" Baker on Sunday.
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.
UK marketing is running several promotions throughout the weekend at John Cropp Stadium, including the first 100 UK fans into the stadium on Saturday and Sunday will receive a set of 2015 Kentucky 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 (27-14, 4-11 SEC) is coming off being swept last weekend by No. 3 Florida in Gainesville, marking the third straight top-five nationally ranked Southeastern Conference opponent UK has faced. The Wildcats are the only team in the conference to face three consecutive top-five ranked opponents with UK earning three wins during that nine-game stretch. UK was scheduled to play at EKU on Wednesday before rain canceled the game, which will not be made up. After the series this weekend with the Gamecocks, UK will host in-state rivals Louisville and WKU before a three-game set with Georgia next weekend to conclude its home schedule.
Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley was impressive in the circle for Kentucky against the Gators, who entered the series ranked 10th nationally in scoring. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., tossed two complete games, allowing just three earned runs on nine hits with eight strikeouts. In the series opener, Nunley allowed just one run and three hits, marking the fourth time in 2015 the Gators had been held to one run or fewer and three hits or fewer. In Monday's finale, Nunley allowed two runs on sacrifice flies with three strikeouts. The two losses marked the fourth and fifth times this season Nunley has allowed two earned runs of fewer and received a loss.
Nunley leads Kentucky in the circle with a 11-9 record and 1.86 ERA in 128.0 innings pitched with 110 strikeouts and opponents hitting just .214 against her. Freshman pitcher Erin Rethlake is 4-0 this season with a 1.65 ERA in 42.1 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts, while sophomore Meagan Prince is 11-5 with a 3.24 ERA in 82 innings pitched and 72 strikeouts. Fellow sophomore Shannon Smith is 1-0 with a 3.33 ERA in 21 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts.
Offensively, junior infielder Christian Stokes leads Kentucky with a .346 average, adding six doubles, one triple, seven homers, 23 RBI and eight stolen bases, while junior utility player Maisie Steed hits .304 with six doubles, five homers, 20 RBI and seven stolen bases. Senior catcher Griffin Joiner is hitting .304 with five doubles, one triple, seven homers and 31 RBI with a .428 on-base percentage. Juniors Nikki Sagermann and Sylver Samuel are hitting .288 with Sagermann adding five homers and 17 RBI, while Samuel has 17 stolen bases.
Kentucky fell one spot to No. 14 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25 and No. 16 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Preseason Top 25 this week. Kentucky has now been ranked in 42 consecutive top 25 listings, dating back to the 2013 season, which is a program record.
The Wildcats have played 19 games against ranked foes already with a 6-13 record, besting then-No. 5 Florida State, then-No. 10 Arizona, then-No. 20 Texas A&M and most recently two games vs. then-No. 1 LSU and one game vs. then-No. 5 Alabama. UK has 10 games remaining this season against teams either ranked or receiving votes in either poll, including three-game sets with No. 11/12 Georgia, No. 12/13 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 11 regular-season games left in 2015 with 10 of those games coming against teams that rank top 50 in the most recent NCAA RPI that was released Monday. UK has six games left vs. RPI top 20 teams. The Wildcats are No. 13 in the NCAA RPI.
South Carolina enters the weekend receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 with a 29-16 record, including a 4-11 mark in SEC play. The Gamecocks are 20-7 at home this season and 3-7 in true road games. USC has two conference wins against highly ranked Tennessee, before taking two of three games against Arkansas last weekend. The Gamecocks have won three of their last four games.
Offensively, the Gamecocks hit .295 as a team with 235 runs scored and 46 home runs. Junior outfielder Alaynie Page leads the team with a .436 average, adding eight doubles, six triples, 12 homers and 40 RBI, while senior outfielder Kristen Struett is hitting .323 with six doubles, two triples, three homers and 19 RBI. Junior infielder Jordan Bizzell and junior outfielder Ansley Ard are hitting .312 with Bizzell adding five homers and 17 RBI, while Ard has three doubles and a home run. Page leads the team with 11 stolen bases, while Bizzell has 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts.
In the circle, sophomore pitcher Nickie Blue leads the team with a 14-7 record and 1.42 ERA in 152. 2 innings pitched. Blue has allowed just 31 earned runs this season with 135 strikeouts and opponents hitting just .187 against her. Senior pitcher Julie Sarratt is 15-8 with a 4.06 ERA in 138.0 innings pitched with 82 strikeouts and a .273 opponent batting average. Freshmen Hayley Copeland and senior Sarah Mooney have seen limited time in the circle with Copeland tossing 7.2 innings with 14 earned runs allowed, while Mooney has thrown one inning with nine earned runs allowed.
South Carolina leads the all-time series against Kentucky, 36-21, but UK is 12-7 against the Gamecocks under head coach Rachel Lawson. The two schools did not meet last season, but squared off in a three-game series in Columbia, S.C., in 2013 with the Wildcats sweeping the Gamecocks. USC returned the favor later that season by defeating Kentucky in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Lexington, Ky. UK has won 12 of the last 16 games played in the series, including five of the last seven games played in Lexington.
For the latest on UK softball, follow @UKSoftball on Twitter and Instagram or like Kentucky Softball on Facebook.
Kentucky 27-14, 4-11 SEC
South Carolina 29-16, 4-11 SEC
Kentucky -- No. 14 USA Today/NFCA Top 25; No. 16 ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
South Carolina -- RV in USA Today/NFCA Top 25; Not ranked in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Saturday, April 11
South Carolina at Kentucky -- 6 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network+
Sunday, April 12
South Carolina at Kentucky -- 3 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network+
Monday, April 13
South Carolina at Kentucky -- 1 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network+