Softball Faces 5th-Seeded Tennessee Wed. in SEC Tournament
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Looking to find its postseason magic from a season ago when it advanced to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and Women's College World Series, No. 21 Kentucky will start postseason play Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET when it battles fifth-seeded Tennessee in the opening round of the SEC Tournament at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, La.
The Kentucky (29-23) and Tennessee (39-13) matchup will conclude the opening day of play at the SEC Tournament, which features 12 teams and is considered one of the most prestigious tournaments in all of college softball outside the WCWS. UK and UT are scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. ET first pitch Wednesday on the SEC Network with Beth Mowins, Jessica Mendoza and Holly Rowe calling the action. Live stats will be available on UKathletics.com.
The game will mark the fourth straight between the two teams as the Wildcats ended their regular season in Knoxville, Tenn., with a three-game series against the Lady Vols. Tennessee swept the series against Kentucky posting a 7-1 victory in the series opener Friday and walk-off wins Saturday and Sunday. The Wildcats scored first and had a lead in all three games of the tightly-contested series.
This will mark the second consecutive season that Kentucky and Tennessee have met in the SEC Tournament after squaring off in the quarterfinals last season in Columbia, S.C. The Wildcats posted a 2-0 victory over the Lady Vols that day, getting a dominating pitching performance from Kelsey Nunley, who worked a complete game shutout with only five hits allowed and seven strikeouts. Shortstop Christian Stokes was the offensive star for UK in the game, going 3-for-4 with a home run.
The winner of Kentucky-Tennessee will face No. 4 seed and host LSU on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET. The tournament begins Wednesday with four first-round games starting at Noon ET on SEC Network, before four quarterfinal matchups Thursday beginning at 11 a.m. ET also on SEC Network. The semifinals will be played Friday starting at 3 p.m. ET on ESPNU, while the championship game is scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Kentucky is 4-10 all-time in the SEC Tournament, making its seventh-consecutive appearance and ninth all-time.
Kentucky, which will be joined at the event by top-seeded Florida, followed by Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, has a 5-19 record this season against teams in the SEC tournament field. The Wildcats played eight of the 11 teams in the field. All eight of Kentucky's conference opponents this season were either ranked or receiving votes at the time UK played them, including a stretch where UK had three straight series against top-five nationally ranked conference opponents in No. 1 LSU, No. 3 Florida and No. 5 Alabama.
The difficult conference schedule and challenging non-conference schedule has Kentucky's strength of schedule No. 2 in the nation, according to the latest NCAA RPI that was released Monday. The Wildcats played 52 regular-season games in 2015, including 25 against top-25 RPI teams and 34 against top-50 RPI teams. The Wildcats have played 26 straight games against top-50 RPI teams and have not played a team outside the top 50 since March 18. UK only has one loss this season against a team ranked outside the top 50. Kentucky is No. 23 in the NCAA RPI, moving back one spot from last week's ranking.
Kentucky has been led this season offensively by Stokes, who is hitting .320 with 32 runs scored, nine doubles, one triple, seven homers and 24 RBI. Senior catcher Griffin Joiner, whose last three hits have all been home runs, is hitting .302 with 11 homers and team-best 39 RBI, while junior infielder Nikki Sagermann is hitting .299 with six homers and 20 RBI. Junior utility player Maisie Steed is hitting .277 with seven homers and 27 RBI, while outfielder Sylver Samuel has a .289 average and team-best 20 stolen bases.
Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley is 12-14 in the circle this season with a 2.40 ERA in 175.1 innings pitched with 160 strikeouts. Nunley has pitched better than her win-loss record indicates as opponents are hitting just .229 against her with only 13 home runs this season. Sophomore Meagan Prince has pitched 101.0 innings with a 12-8 record and 3.53 ERA. Prince is limiting opponents to a .265 average with 84 strikeouts. Freshman Erin Rethlake is 4-0 with a 2.36 ERA in 50.1 innings pitched, while sophomore Shannon Smith is 1-1 with a 3.23 ERA in 26 innings pitched.
For more information on the Kentucky softball team, follow @UKSoftball on Twitter and Instagram of Kentucky Softball on Facebook.
2015 SEC Tournament - Baton Rouge, La.
Wednesday, May 6
Game 1 -- Missouri vs. Miss. State -- Noon ET -- SEC Network
Game 2 -- Georgia vs. Ole Miss -- 2:30 p.m. ET -- SEC Network
Game 3 -- Texas A&M vs. South Carolina -- 5 p.m. ET -- SEC Network
Game 4 -- Kentucky vs. Tennessee -- 7:30 p.m. ET -- SEC Network -- Live Stats
Thursday, May 7
Game 5 -- Auburn vs. Winner Game 1 -- 11 a.m. ET -- SEC Network
Game 6 -- Alabama vs. Winner Game 2 -- 1:30 p.m. ET -- SEC Network
Game 7 -- Florida vs. Winner Game 3 -- 4 p.m. ET -- SEC Network
Game 8 -- LSU vs. Winner Game 4 -- 6:30 p.m. ET -- SEC Network
Friday, May 8
Game 9 -- Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6 -- 3 p.m. ET -- ESPNU
Game 10 -- Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8 -- 5:30 p.m. ET -- ESPNU
Saturday, May 9
Game 11 -- Championship Game -- 8 p.m. ET -- ESPN