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Kentucky softball team takes aim at defending national champs

Kentucky's Lauren Cumbess prepared for the ball to come her way as UK softball played the University of Florida on Saturday, April 13, 2013. Photo by Mark Ashley
Kentucky's Lauren Cumbess prepared for the ball to come her way as UK softball played the University of Florida on Saturday, April 13, 2013. Photo by Mark Ashley Herald-Leader

The University of Kentucky softball team has some work to do before hosting the Southeastern Conference Tournament next week.

The Wildcats are already secure in the knowledge they've earned a berth in the tournament. This weekend offers a chance to improve on their current position as the No. 7 seed.

To do so, Kentucky will have to go through defending national champion Alabama, which hosts the Cats for a three-game regular-season ending series in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama is 38-2 all-time against Kentucky and has won all 18 meetings in Tuscaloosa.

The Nos. 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds in the SEC Tournament open play on Wednesday next week at Kentucky's John Cropp Stadium. The top six seeds debut in the quarterfinal round beginning Thursday.

Alabama (40-10 overall, 12-9 SEC) is ranked No. 8 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll. The Crimson Tide started the season on a 22-game winning streak but has slipped in league play and is tied with Georgia for the No. 5 seed entering the weekend. Alabama suffered a three-game sweep at LSU last weekend.

Kentucky (36-16, 11-10) is ranked No. 19 after going 1-2 in last weekend's SEC series against Missouri.

Kentucky is led offensively by junior infielder/pitcher Lauren Cumbess, who is batting .353 average with a team-best 11 home runs. She also has 38 RBI and 12 doubles. Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner is hitting .318 with 12 doubles, nine home runs and 38 RBI. Freshman infielder Nikki Sagermann is batting .306 with five homers and 18 RBI.

Kelsey Nunley, who leads SEC freshmen pitchers in wins, ERA and strikeouts, tops UK in nearly every pitching category with a 22-7 record and 2.02 ERA.

Freshman outfielder Haylie McCleney leads Alabama in batting at .474, with four home runs and 36 RBI.

Junior Jackie Traina (17-6, 2.16 ERA) is the Tide's top pitcher.


This weekend

No. 19 UK at No. 8 Alabama

Friday: 7:30 p.m.

Saturday: 3 p.m.

Sunday: 2:30 p.m.

SEC Tournament

When: May 8-11

Where: Kentucky's John Cropp Stadium

Tickets: All-session tickets available online at UKAthletics.com. Single-session tickets go on sale next week. All-session tickets are $40, $50 or $60.

SEC standings

Eastern Division SEC All

Tennessee 15-4 42-7

Florida 16-5 47-6

Missouri 13-7 31-9

Georgia 12-9 35-18

Kentucky 11-10 36-16

South Carolina 7-14 30-20

Western Division SEC All

LSU 15-6 40-11

Alabama 12-9 40-10

Arkansas 9-10 31-17

Texas A&M 8-12 37-13

Auburn 7-14 30-20

Mississippi State 7-14 31-19

Mississippi 3-21 25-31

This weekend's series

Kentucky at Alabama

Florida at South Carolina

LSU at Georgia

Mississippi State at Texas A&M

Auburn at Arkansas

LSU at Georgia

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