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2014 Women's College World Series: #14 Kentucky vs. #2 Alabama: UK Softball Preview/Gamethread

Consider that "Cinderella" slipper officially shattered: Kentucky trounced #6 Louisiana-Lafayette and their 3 NFCA All-Team players 4-1 Thursday night. Next up, our SEC sisters from Titletown as Kentucky takes on Alabama at 9:30 tonight on ESPN2.

Rich DeCray-SBN

Let me start by saying it was a darned fine day for the best conference in the land yesterday, as the 3 SEC representatives to the WCWS swept the competition. It was a rough day for the Big XII however, with both Baylor and Oklahoma being sent to the loser's bracket at the hands of their SEC foes. Baylor Coach Glenn Moore may be regretting his words about how "It's time for people to get off the SEC kick" after Florida's 11-0 smackdown of his Bears. (Is this what schadenfreude feels like? It's kinda fun!)

Kentucky didn't look or behave like the new kids yesterday, taking control of the game from the opening pitch. Senior Lauren Cumbess (or as we like to call her "Miss Wildcat") went 3 for 3, to include a HR, a double and 2 RBIs, helping the Cats jump out to an early lead in the first inning and never looking back. She blew away the analysts with her offense by doing what a leader is expected to do: set the standard for her team.

On the mound the buzz might have been about Christina Hamilton and her hipster glasses, but now it seems face masks should be the fashion accessory of these games. UK's ironwoman pitcher Kelsey Nunley had a stellar WCWS debut, allowing just 1 hit and delivering 6 strikeouts to the Ragin' Cajuns. Head Coach Rachel Lawson is understandably proud of the work her sophomore hurler is delivering in the post-season. "I think the thing that makes Kelsey special is that she puts the ball exactly where she wants to," Lawson said. "She's able to command all four of the zones. She can go up, she can go down, she can go in and out. And I think because of that, she can game plan against specific batters, so she doesn't have to give the same look every single day. I think any time a pitcher can mix it up like that in all the zones and go offspeed, I think they're pretty tough to hit because it's hard for a hitter to sit on a pitch."

So what exactly is Kentucky facing tonight in their first meeting against the Tide this season?

For starters, they're facing star senior pitcher Jaclyn Traina, who threw six hitless innings against #7 Oklahoma last night. OKC is familiar territory for 'Bama, who have been here a mere 9 times previously and won it all in 2012. The 51-11 Tide walked into AHA Hall of Fame Stadium with a .321 batting average, 5 NFCA honorees, the SEC Coach and Pitcher of the Year and the SEC Regular Season title.

Other key Alabama players to watch include seniors Kaila Hunt and Molly Fichtner,  junior Jadyn Spencer and sophomore Haylie McCleney. All four of these women hit well above our top offensive performers, with Haylie at a particularly lethal .443 season to date performance.

Keys to victory tonight include:

  • Winning on the mound
  • Offensive efficiency
  • Lethal defense

We've seen our Cats deliver on all of these during the post-season but they'll need to really step it up tonight if they want a coveted spot in the Championship series. And we'll be right here at ASoB, cheering our Hittin' Kittens on every step of the way! Please join us at 9:30 EDT tonight to watch all the action on ESPN2.

Until tonight - GO BIG BLUE!