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Kentucky’s Nunley, Lawson named SEC pitcher, coach of year

Kelsey Nunley was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year in a vote of league coaches.
Kelsey Nunley was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year in a vote of league coaches. UK Athletics

The University of Kentucky softball team is making history this season.

And the end-of-year awards handed out by the Southeastern Conference’s coaches on Tuesday reflected that in a big way.

UK senior Kelsey Nunley was named the SEC’s Pitcher of the Year, and the Wildcats’ Rachel Lawson was honored as the league’s Coach of the Year.

Nunley is the first UK player to earn the league’s top pitching award. For Lawson, this is her first Coach of the Year recognition in her nine seasons in Lexington.

The Wildcats completed their best-ever regular season on Sunday, finishing with school records for regular-season wins and league victories after going 43-11 overall and 17-7 in the SEC. UK’s second-place finish in the nation’s toughest softball league was its best ever.

Kentucky is ranked No. 11 in this week’s national coaches’ poll. The Wildcats open play in the SEC Tournament at Starkville, Miss., on Thursday.

In addition to her pitcher of the year award, Nunley was the only player from Kentucky recognized as a first-team All-SEC selection for 2016.

UK’s Abbey Cheek made the Freshman All-SEC Team as a utility player. Kentucky first baseman Maisie Steed and shortstop Christian Stokes made the All-Defensive Team.

Nunley posted a 20-5 record during the regular season, with a school-record 1.26 earned-run average. Kentucky’s ace struck out an SEC-best 185 batters in 161  1/3 innings pitched, allowing just 37 runs in 31 appearances. She pitched seven complete-game shutouts. Nunley is the NCAA’s active leader in career innings pitched with more than 900.

Nunley is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award and the ASA/USA Softball National Player of the Year award.

Lawson passed several milestones of her own this season, eclipsing 300 wins at UK, 400 for her career and getting her 100th SEC victory. She has led Kentucky to four NCAA super regionals and a College World Series in the past five years. At 409-294, Lawson UK softball’s winningest head coach ever.

SEC Tournament begins

UK gets a day to relax but then things kick into gear quickly at this week’s SEC Tournament, which includes nine of the top 17 ranked teams in America.

The tourney begins Wednesday with four first-round games at Nusz Park in Starkville, Miss.

No. 6 seed Missouri takes on No. 11 seed South Carolina in the opening game at noon EDT. That contest is followed at 2:30 p.m. by No. 7 seed LSU vs. No. 10 seed Texas A&M. Kentucky gets the winner of that game at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

The Wildcats are the tournament’s No. 2 seed. The other top seeds to receive first-round byes were No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Tennessee and No. 4 Auburn.

Four quarterfinal games are scheduled for Thursday, with the semifinals on Friday and the championship game Sunday.

SEC teams ranked in this week’s national coaches’ poll include No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Alabama, No. 8 Auburn, No. 10 Tennessee, No. 11 Kentucky, No. 12 LSU, No. 15 Georgia, No. 16 Texas A&M and No. 17 Missouri.

Coaches’ All-SEC teams

First Team

P: Delanie Gourley, Florida

P: Aleshia Ocasio, Florida

P: Kelsey Nunley, Kentucky

IF: Kasey Cooper, Auburn

IF: Alyssa DiCarlo, Georgia

IF: Bianka Bell, LSU

IF: Meghan Gregg, Tennessee

IF: Tori Vidales, Texas A&M

OF: Haylie McCleney, Alabama

OF: Amanda Lorenz, Florida

OF: Sydni Emanuel, Georgia

OF: Emily Crane, Missouri

C: Ashley Walters, Texas A&M

DP/U: Kayli Kvistad, Florida

Second Team

P: Sydney Littlejohn, Alabama

P: Chelsea Wilkinson, Georgia

P: Carley Hoover, LSU

IF: Leona Lafaele, Alabama

IF: Jade Rhodes, Auburn

IF: Alex Hugo, Georgia

IF: Tina Iosefa, Georgia

IF: Sami Fagan, Missouri

OF: Kirsti Merritt, Florida

OF: Cortni Emanuel, Georgia

OF: Taylor Gadbois, Missouri

OF: Keeli Milligan, Texas A&M

C: Aubree Munro, Florida

DP/U: Rainey Gaffin, Tennessee

All-Freshman Team

P: Kelly Barnhill, Florida

P: Matty Moss, Tennessee

P: Samantha Show, Texas A&M

IF: Alyssa DiCarlo, Georgia

IF: Lacey Sumerlin, Georgia

IF: Hailey Lunderman, Ole Miss

IF: Aubrey Leach, Tennessee

IF: Kaitlyn Alderink, Texas A&M

OF: Amanda Lorenz, Florida

OF: Regan Nash, Missouri

OF: Brooke Vines, Tennessee

OF: Keeli Milligan, Texas A&M

C: Reagan Dykes, Alabama

DP/U: Abbey Cheek, Kentucky

All-Defensive Team

P: Rainey Gaffin, Tennessee

C: Aubree Munro, Florida

1B: Leona Lafaele, Alabama

1B: Jade Rhodes, Auburn

1B: Maisie Steed, Kentucky

1B: Tori Vidales, Texas A&M

2B: Emily Carosone, Auburn

SS: Christian Stokes, Kentucky

3B: Kasey Cooper, Auburn

LF: Kallie Case, Alabama

CF: Haylie McCleney, Alabama

RF: Emily Crane, Missouri

Player of the Year: Kasey Cooper, Auburn

Pitcher of the Year: Kelsey Nunley, Kentucky

Freshman of the Year: Amanda Lorenz, Florida

Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Kasey Cooper, Auburn

Coach of the Year: Rachel Lawson, Kentucky

SEC Tournament

When: Wednesday-Saturday

Where: Starkville, Miss.

TV: SEC Network (Wednesday, Thursday), ESPNU (Friday), ESPN (Saturday)