The University of Kentucky has sampled softball diamonds from Florida to Texas to California this spring, playing 24 of its first 29 games on the road. Say hello to home sweet home.
The 15th-ranked Wildcats open a stretch of 17 of their next 22 games at John Cropp Stadium when they host No. 1 Louisiana State in a three-game series starting Friday.
LSU, which was picked to finish fourth in the Southeastern Conference's preseason coaches poll — one spot behind Kentucky — has been on fire to start the season. The Tigers (31-1, 5-1 SEC) won their first 25 games to rise to No. 1 in the nation. After a 4-3 loss at No. 2 Florida on March 13, LSU has won its last six as it heads to Lexington.
Still, the Tigers expect a stiff challenge from the Wildcats, who played in the College World Series last season.
"We've got our work cut out for us with Kentucky. They do such a great job with preparing for their opponents," LSU Coach Beth Torina said. "They're coming off being swept and I think that's a bad spot to be in for us. I think they typically respond really well to that in their history."
Kentucky (21-8, 1-5 SEC) was swept at No. 9 Auburn last weekend.
Offensively, Kentucky has been led by junior shortstop Christian Stokes, who is hitting .374 with five doubles, one triple, six homers and 18 RBI. Junior utility player Maisie Steed is hitting .348 with three doubles, five homers and 16 RBI.
Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley paces the Wildcats with a 9-4 record and 1.89 ERA, striking out 71 batters in 811⁄3 innings pitched.
LSU is paced by a high-powered offense that is hitting .365 with 251 runs scored and 35 home runs, while the Tigers' pitching staff has limited opponents to a .185 average and only 37 earned runs.
Bianka Bell — the SEC Player of the Week each of the last two weeks — leads the team with a .554 average, adding 12 doubles, 12 homers and a team-best 50 RBI.
Pitcher Carly Hoover has a team-high 572⁄3 innings pitched with an 8-1 record and 1.46 ERA.