The 18th-ranked Kentucky softball team begins play at 5 p.m. Wednesday against No. 24 South Carolina in the single-elimination Southeastern Conference Tournament in Knoxville.
The Cats (35-16, 12-12 SEC), seeded seventh in the tournament, did not play the 10th-seeded Gamecocks (32-22, 8-15) during the regular season.
UK is led offensively by sophomore shortstop Katie Reed, who was named Tuesday as a first-team All-SEC selection. Reed ranks in the top 15 in the SEC in average (.354) and hits (63). Sophomore third baseman Abbey Cheek ranks eighth in the SEC with 10 home runs. Junior pitcher/infielder Erin Rethlake ranks ninth in steals with 18. UK also has All-SEC freshmen selections in left fielder Bailey Vick and second baseman Alex Martens.
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As a pitcher, Rethlake has a 9-4 record in 20 appearances with a 1.85 ERA, one of the best in the conference. Primary starter Meagan Prince, a senior, has an 18-7 record with a 2.02 ERA.
The SEC, arguably the toughest softball conference in the nation, boasts four teams in the RPI top 10, and 12 teams in the RPI top 25. They are led by consensus No. 1 Florida (50-5, 20-3), the top seed in the tournament. Kentucky is one of only five teams to hand the Gators a loss this season.
If UK advances past South Carolina, it will take on No. 3 Auburn (45-9, 17-7), the second seed, in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Thursday. The Cats also did not face Auburn this season.
Regardless of Kentucky’s progress in the SEC Tournament, it will be making its ninth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament under head coach Rachel Lawson. This is also Lawson’s ninth consecutive winning season for UK. UK’s last trip to the Women’s College World Series was in 2014.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will air at 10 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2. The 64 teams and 16 regional sites will be named during the hourlong show.
SEC Softball Tournament
First round: Kentucky vs. South Carolina
When: 5 p.m. Wednesday
TV: SEC Network