There's no denying that Kentucky softball has been on the uptick ever since Rachel Lawson took over as coach three seasons ago.
The 16th-ranked Wildcats flexed their muscles again Tuesday, shutting out Eastern Kentucky 7-0 at the UK Softball Complex.
Brittany Cervantes and Alice O'Brien each homered and Kara Dill went 3-for-3 to back the two-hit complete-game effort of Lauren Cumbess.
Just how good UK is, though, may came to light Wednesday, when archrival Louisville visits.
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After going 17-37 in Lawson's first season, UK advanced to the NCAA Tournament each of the past two years, going 34-23 and 32-27.
However, Louisville has swept UK in each of Lawson's first three seasons, and it beat the Cats 6-0 last month.
"Obviously, we want it bad," Lawson said of Wednesday's game. "Because one of our goals is to be not only one of the best teams in the country, but we want to be the best team in our state. And I think, until we beat Louisville, we can't do that. ... Hopefully, we'll turn it around (Wednesday) and play well."
UK (32-10, 11-6 Southeastern Conference) has posted three consecutive 30-win seasons for the first time. The Wildcats have been ranked 11 consecutive weeks, also a first for the program. The school record for wins in a season — 36 in 2000 — is within reach.
"We've had this going on for the last couple of years, so it's been a progression," Lawson said. "I think the best thing about this season, we've had a lot of production from a lot of different people.
"We're able to generate runs from the top third to the bottom of the order. And we have a little bigger pitching staff, so we have a little bit more depth. I think the combination of all that has allowed us to mix and match against different teams that we might not have been a good match-up (with) before."
How about April 6, when juniors Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley each tossed a perfect game in a doubleheader sweep of Austin Peay?
Cumbess and Ellen Weaver, each freshmen, are a combined 12-1.
Cumbess retired the first 11 batters in order Tuesday before Shyenne Hussey lined a single up the box. EKU (21-22) got its only other base- runner on Melissa Costa's sixth-inning swinging bunt that traveled about 10 feet.
Six of UK's nine batters in Tuesday's lineup entered hitting .318 or better, topped by Meagan Aull's .381.
Cervantes, a junior from Chatsworth, Calif., belted her team-leading 14th homer of the season with one on in the third inning to give UK a 3-0 lead. That gives her 34 career homers, one shy of the UK record. Molly Johnson, who wrapped up her UK playing career in 2010 and now assists Lawson, hit 35.
"No big deal," Cervantes said of her impending career record, adding a laugh. "It is (a big deal). Molly's an excellent player, no doubt, and the fact that I'm even close to her with the record — because she's just an amazing hitter — is just an accomplishment. And I've actually got one more year, so I'm going to set my own record."
Johnson, who will play this summer for Team USA, says she's not surprised by UK's steady rise.
"I think we saw glimpses of it last year and the year before," Johnson said. "And I think this group really knows how to win, so I'm not surprised at all. ... They're making adjustments a lot faster and I think they're having a lot of fun."
With plans for more fun.
Cumbess, from Normal, Ill., knows there's regular-season business to attend to, but the NCAA soon will beckon.
"I believe we have the power to go very far," she said. "We're pushing for 'baby steps' right now, but we all know that we can get pretty far this year."
First up, though, is Wednesday's grudge match.
Recalling last month's loss, Lawson said UK "didn't play particularly well, and Louisville's a great team."
"I'm hoping we play tough defense tomorrow. I'm hoping that we get a strong outing on the mound. And, hopefully, we just stay steady in the box. That's the plan."