Feb. 5, 2014
Leading up to the 2014 season, UKathletics.com will breakdown the upcoming softball season with four season previews about the team. The first will be an overall preview, detailing the team's focus heading into the season, followed by position specific previews on the outfielders, infielders and pitching staff. Below is part four.
Kelsey Nunley didn't even envision the type of 2013 rookie campaign that she would have.
The talented hurler from Soddy Daisy, Tenn., fell in love with the University of Kentucky on her recruiting visit and it didn't take long for the Big Blue Nation to fall in love with her.
The rookie sensation had 27 wins last season - more than any other freshman pitcher in the nation - to sit atop the school's list for most wins in a single season. Her 27 wins (in one season, remember) actually rank her tied for seventh on UK's all-time career wins list.
"Nunley is Nunley," head coach Rachel Lawson said when asked how she was progressing heading into her sophomore season. "She just competes."
Nunley pitched in 47 games last season, totaling 268.2 innings and a 2.14 ERA. She struck out an impressive 193 batters and opponents hit just .215 against her. The sophomore had wins over top-20 Alabama, Louisville, Missouri, Florida, Stanford and Washington.
And with a year against Southeastern Conference competition already under her belt, her understanding of what it takes to be successful should grow into her sophomore season.
But, for Lawson, it's something else that sets her apart.
"What makes Nunley so good is she is a competitor," Lawson said. "I think that can't go unnoticed. When you are on the mound that is the No. 1 criteria. It is not just how good your stuff is but how well you compete with it. You can have great stuff, but if you are not a competitor you are not going to win. On the flip side, if you are a competitor and can locate pitches and are tough on the mound you can win a lot of games."
That competitive side is something Lawson hopes rubs off to the rest of her pitching staff that is filled with talented veteran Lauren Cumbess, who won 10 games last season, and true freshmen Meagan Prince and Shannon Smith.
Cumbess is a key piece of the pitching puzzle for Lawson. The native of Normal, Ill., has pitched in some big games for the Wildcats, including winning its season opener last year vs. No. 3 California and throwing nearly four scoreless innings in UK's clinching win in the NCAA Regional over Virginia Tech.
The co-captain gives Lawson options with her incredible bat after leading the team in nearly every offensive category last season, including batting average, home runs and RBI.
"Cumbess will get the ball a lot," Lawson said. "She looks really good and she has done well in scrimmages with executing game plans and showing good command. She gives us a lot of options because her bat is so big. We look for a big year from her in the circle and at the plate."
The other two pitching options for Lawson are in the form of two accomplished rookies that bring lots of credentials to the Bluegrass State.
Prince comes to UK from Westview High School in Martin, Tenn., where she led her team in ERA her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, including going 20-3 her senior year with a 0.51 ERA. Prince earned countless awards in high school, being named Jackson Sun 2013 Pitcher of the Year and 2013 Tennessee Softball Coaches Associated Class AA Miss Softball.
Smith brings a similar résumé as a three-time Gatorade Massachusetts Player of the Year and two-time ESPN Miss Softball for Massachusetts. The native of Milford, Mass., ended her high school career with the Massachusetts state strikeout record with 1,219 and posted 86 career wins, which was also a state record. Over her career, Smith threw 25 no-hitters and 11 perfect games.
The key for both players now is adjusting to collegiate softball and understanding the competitiveness you have to have in the circle.
"They are two talented young pitchers that are going to be very good around here during their careers," Lawson said. "They are going to help us this year and the more experience they get the better we are going to be. We have working on them pitching with better command and understanding the mindset of a batter at the collegiate level. Those are difficult things to grasp in a few short months, but we are happy with their progress."