Feb. 5, 2014
LONG BEACH, Calif. - After months of practice, training and conditioning the No. 12/14 University of Kentucky softball team is set to begin its 2014 schedule on Thursday when it opens up play in the Mizuno Invitational (Long Beach, Calif.) and Easton Tournament (Fullerton, Calif.) in Southern California.
Kentucky will play five games in three days in Long Beach, Calif., and Fullerton, Calif. The weekend starts with a doubleheader at the 49er Softball Complex on Thursday against Santa Clara at Noon ET and Long Beach State at 2:30 p.m. ET. The Wildcats will travel to Cal State Fullerton on Friday to play a doubleheader at Anderson Family Field against Loyola Marymount at 1:30 p.m. ET and No.2/2 Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. ET. The weekend concludes back in Long Beach with a Noon ET game vs. George Washington. Live stats from all five games will be available online at UKathletics.com.
UK is coming off a historic 2013 season that saw the Wildcats win a school-record 41 games en route to its second ever NCAA Super Regional. Kentucky earned a national seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, hosting an NCAA Regional at John Cropp Stadium. Head coach Rachel Lawson, who is entering her seventh season at the helm of the UK softball program, returns 15 letterwinners from that squad, including eight starters and two pitchers. Kentucky returns four of its top five hitters and its two top pitchers from last season.
Senior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess paced the Wildcats last season at the plate with a .323 batting average, adding 12 doubles, 13 homers and 43 RBI. Junior catcher Griffin Joiner was just behind Cumbess at the plate with a .322 batting average with 14 doubles, 10 homers and 41 RBI. Cumbess and Joiner will serve as co-captains for 2014.
Sophomore outfielder Sylver Samuel and sophomore infielder Nikki Sagermann ranked fourth and fifth on the team respectively in batting average last season. Samuel hit .319 with 22 runs scored and 21 stolen bases, while Sagermann hit .314 with three doubles, seven homers and 26 RBI. Sophomores Christian Stokes and Maisie Steed played in over 60 games for UK last season with Stokes blasting seven homers with 29 RBI and Steed hitting eight bombs with a .351 on-base percentage.
Seniors Ginny Carroll, Krystal Smith, Emily Gaines and Emily Jolly return as well after strong junior seasons. Carroll had a nice junior season in the outfield with a .242 average, adding seven doubles, two homers and 22 RBI. Smith played in 58 games with two doubles, three homers and 12 RBI, while Gaines and Jolly provide power bats off the bench and strong defense in the outfield.
Other returning letterwinners include senior infielder Sarah Frazer, who scored 14 runs and had five stolen bases last season, junior outfielder Kara Howard and sophomores Ansley Smith and Darington Richardson.
Kentucky also returns nearly all of its pitching production from last season in sophomore Kelsey Nunley and Cumbess. Nunley, who had more wins than any other freshman pitcher in the nation last season, went 27-11 in her first season with the Wildcats, posting a 2.14 ERA with 193 strikeouts in 268.2 innings pitched. Cumbess followed Nunley with a 10-7 record and a 3.88 ERA, striking out 82 batters in 110 innings pitched.
The Wildcats also add four newcomers to the mix in pitchers Meagan Prince and Shannon Smith, and outfielder/infielders Breanne Ray and Stephanie Martino.
Thursday will be Kentucky's first meeting with Santa Clara and its fifth against Long Beach State with the 49ers holding the all-time record in games played 3-1. This is the first meeting between UK and Long Beach State since 2008. The Wildcats played both Loyola Marymount and Oklahoma last season, defeating LMU 4-3 and falling to then-No. 1 Oklahoma 11-0. Saturday will also be UK's first meeting against George Washington.
The five-game West Coast swing is part of a 15-game road trip to begin the season for UK, including trips to Austin, Texas and Boca Raton, Fla., in the coming weeks. The road trip will be countered by a 14-game home stretch later in the season at John Cropp Stadium.
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