Kentucky Sports

Driven athletes, upgraded facilities putting UK softball in national conversation

UK starting pitcher Kelsey Nunley, left, gets a high-five from first baseman Lauren Cumbess after a striking out an Ole Miss batter in the first inning at the UK softball complex in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 8, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins
UK starting pitcher Kelsey Nunley, left, gets a high-five from first baseman Lauren Cumbess after a striking out an Ole Miss batter in the first inning at the UK softball complex in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 8, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins Herald-Leader

What a time for Kentucky softball.

The 18th-ranked Wildcats, on a six-game winning streak, open a three-game series Friday against No. 3 Florida.

The reconstructed UK Softball Complex will be officially dedicated before Saturday's game, which will be televised by ESPNU.

ESPN will be back next month, too, when UK will play host to the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time (May 8-11).

On Wednesday, Rachel Lawson became the winningest coach in program history. In her sixth season, she has a 183-143 record, including 66 SEC wins.

"That's very cool, but I've been very fortunate. I've had a lot of great athletes since I've been here," Lawson said. "I inherited a great group and I've been able to recruit some athletes who want to play in the SEC, and who love Kentucky, who are top-shelf. We've been really lucky.

"We've been to five straight post-seasons; hopefully we'll make it a sixth. Then, our ultimate goal is obviously the World Series."

UK (30-10, 8-4 SEC) is riding a school record-tying six-game SEC winning streak, coming off sweeps of Mississippi State and South Carolina.

Lawson attributes the Wildcats' rise in recent seasons to "a lot of things," mentioning support from Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and his department, fan support and, of course, the athletes.

"They're focused. They know where they want to go," Lawson said. "I've had incredible athletes here that are driven, and I think that's the secret to success in anything, your athletes. Nobody wants it more than they do, so they just keep winning and laying it on the line every time they step on the field."

Lawson expects the revamped facility, which won't be 100 percent completed until next month, to help her program become even better.

In addition to seating for about 1,500 fans and a press box/suites attachment, an indoor hitting facility is Lawson's personal highlight.

"It's going to have five cages, but with the ability to pull back and play defense if it's cold weather," Lawson said. "It will also have indoor pitching mounds that are built right into the ground."

The hitting facility will be attached to the UK locker room, which includes a study area and kitchen.

"So we'll be able to keep our grades up while, at the same time, being able to train at a high level. Just the convenience of the whole thing really allows them to have the best of both worlds," Lawson said. "This is probably the best (hitting facility) in the country. I haven't seen one better than this."

Lawson thinks the Cats' new home will enable her to attract more top athletes. And being on national TV this weekend will help spread the word.

"People are going to see it on TV this weekend and they're going to want to play in it," she said.

The SEC Tournament will provide another national-TV showcase.

"It's the best conference in the country," Lawson said. "And to be able to have 10 of the best teams in the country playing in Lexington all at one time is certainly something that's very special."

■ Florida (39-4, 12-3) has won 13 of its last 14 games.

■ Saturday's pre-game events will include a grand opening ceremony at 11:45 a.m.; gates open at 11:30. A commemorative ticket will be given to those in attendance. Also, the first 100 fans will receive a pack of UK softball trading cards.

■ The entire team will sign autographs after the Saturday and Sunday games.

■ Free posters and schedule cards will be available before and after all three games.


This weekend

No. 3 Florida at No. 18 Kentucky

Friday: 6 p.m.

Saturday: 1 p.m. (ESPNU)

Sunday: Noon


SEC standings

Eastern Division SEC All

Florida 12-3 39-4

Tennessee 9-3 35-6

Missouri 8-3 23-4

Kentucky 8-4 30-10

Georgia 6-6 29-13

South Carolina 1-11 21-17

Western Division SEC All

LSU 9-3 33-8

Alabama 10-5 37-6

Texas A&M 5-6 33-7

Auburn 6-9 27-15

Arkansas 4-7 26-14

Mississippi State 3-9 24-14

Mississippi 2-13 21-23

Friday's games

Florida at Kentucky, 6 p.m.

Auburn at Tennessee, 6 p.m.

Arkansas at Missouri, 7 p.m.

Georgia at South Carolina, 7 p.m.

LSU at Texas A&M, 8 p.m.

Mississippi at Miss. State, 8 p.m.

  Comments