No. 8/10 Softball Begins SEC Action at Mississippi State
March 6, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After opening up its home schedule with three wins last weekend at John Cropp Stadium, the No. 8/10 University of Kentucky softball team is set to start conference play this weekend as it travels to Starkville, Miss., to square off against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a three-game set beginning Friday at 7 p.m. ET.
The three-game series is the first Southeastern Conference set of the season for Kentucky. The Wildcats and Bulldogs begin action Friday at 7 p.m. ET, followed by a 4 p.m. ET first pitch on Saturday and 2 p.m. ET finale on Sunday. Live stats from all three games will be available on UKathletics.com, while live video streaming for every game will be available at through hailstate.com (subscription required).
Kentucky (16-2) is looking to continue its best start in school history. The Wildcats started the season with 12 consecutive wins, which was not only the best start in school history but the longest winning streak in program history. Through 18 games, UK's current record is the best ever. The Wildcats stayed at No. 8 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association/USA Today Top 25 this week, but fell two spots to No. 10 in the ESPN.com/USA Today Top 25.
UK enters the weekend having won four straight games after claiming its final game of the FAU Invitational two weekends ago before winning all three games last weekend in its first home tournament of the season. Kentucky took down Butler, Pittsburgh and EKU in the four-team tournament, claiming walk-off wins over Pittsburgh and EKU. Senior outfielder Emily Gaines was the story for the Wildcats over the weekend, hitting her first career home run against EKU in walk-off fashion.
Junior catcher Griffin Joiner paces Kentucky offensively with a .388 (19-for-49) batting average, including three doubles, six homers and 14 RBI. Gaines is second on the team with a .364 (8-for-22) average, while sophomore slappers Darington Richardson and Sylver Samuel are third and fourth on the team in average at .353 and .321, respectively. Sophomore Christian Stokes and senior Lauren Cumbess pace the team with four doubles each, while senior Emily Jolly is second on the team with five home runs and 11 RBI.
Freshman pitcher Meagan Prince paces the team with a 1.66 ERA, sitting 5-0 with 25 strikeouts in 21.2 innings pitched. Cumbess is second on the squad with a 4-0 record and 2.00 ERA, posting 29 strikeouts in 36.0 innings pitched, while sophomore Kelsey Nunley is 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched with a team-best 44 strikeouts. Freshman Shannon Smith is having a good start to her career with a 1.08 ERA in 16.2 innings pitched. Shannon Smith has a 2-1 record on the year and 20 strikeouts.Mississippi State enters the weekend with a 19-2 record and off to one of the best starts in program history. The Bulldogs, who are receiving votes in both national polls, won their first 15 games on the year before dropping a 1-0 battle to top-15 ranked Baylor. MSU is coming off a 5-3 loss to UAB on Tuesday night in Starkville.
MSU is led offensively by freshman infielder Caroline Seitz, who is hitting .354 with seven doubles, three triples, four homers and 12 RBI. Junior infielder Julia Echols is second on the team in batting average at .352 with two doubles and two homers, while sophomore outfielder Loryn Nichols has a team-high nine stolen bases. Senior catcher Sam Lenahan has five homers this season to lead the team behind 19 RBI.
Four of MSU's five pitchers have ERAs below 1.00, paced by senior Alison Owen, who is 8-2 in 63 innings pitched with a 0.78 ERA and 91 strikeouts. Freshman Alexis Silkwood is 5-0 with a 0.62 ERA in 45 innings pitched, while sophomore Jacey Punches is 6-0 with a 0.24 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched. Freshman Mackenzie Toler has thrown 3.1 innings, allowing no runs on two hits, while senior Shanna Sherrod has tossed three innings allowing no run on three hits.
Mississippi State holds the all-time record vs. Kentucky at 27-19. The Wildcats swept the three-game set against the Bulldogs last season in Lexington, while Mississippi State swept Kentucky with three one-run wins in Starkville in 2012. In fact, eight of the last nine times the teams have played each other it has ended in a team sweeping the other. Miss. State swept three-game sets in 2005, 2006 and 2012, and two -game sets in 2007 and 2008, while Kentucky swept three-game sets in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Kentucky is 11-6 against Miss. State under head coach Rachel Lawson with all six losses coming in Starkville.
The three-game series begins an eight-game road swing for Kentucky, who will return from Starkville and travel to Marshall on Tuesday for a midweek non-conference game before a three-game set with highly ranked Missouri next weekend.