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UK Softball Wraps up the Regular Season at Tennessee: Preview & GameThread

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#21 Kentucky has its final series of the regular season this weekend in Knoxville. The Hittin' Kittens have had an up and down year - from the high of beating then #1 LSU in March to the frustration of being unable to close out an 11 inning battle against unranked South Carolina. What should we hope to see this weekend?

It's the last softball game of the season, and there's FINALLY a thread to go with it! (Sorry folks, catching UK on TV when it hasn't been a workday has been tough this year.) The Cats definitely could use the support of everyone at ASoB today and tomorrow as they try and get a win before heading to Baton Rouge next week for the SEC Championship.

It's been a wacky season thus far for the Cats. In addition to the cancellation of their entire series at the (ironically named) Frost Classic in Chattanooga due to Snowpocalypse, the Cats dropped every SEC road series this season. They also beat #1 LSU, #9 Florida State, and #5 Oklahoma.

The team is definitely different from last year's senior led club. After the collapse against Baylor at the WCWS last year in OKC, Rachel Lawson has been true to her word on developing her pitching staff beyond just Kelsey Nunley. Kelsey is 12-13 in the circle this year, but is holding the opposition to a miserly 11 runs on the season and just .227 on offense. Meagan Prince, who we saw little of last year, has pitched 96 innings for a 12-6 record and 83 Ks. Newbie Meagan Rethlake has also had some well deserved time on the mound, delivering a 4-0 record in 48 innings and a .232 ERA. This club is still firmly in Kelsey's hands, but unlike last year she no longer has to carry the load singlehandedly.

The Cats' 2 lone seniors this year, Kara Howard and Griffin Joiner, have made it clear they want to get back to OKC. Griffin, in addition to being drafted by the Akron Racers and being nominated for the Senior CLASS award, has  provided outstanding leadership on the field. Griffin is the Cats' second most dangerous hitter, averaging .308 in 133 at bats. She also leads the team in home runs, delivering 10 so far this season. Griffin and Kara have both stepped up to provide this club with leadership in critical moments, and were given warm recognition as members of one of the winningest classes in program history last weekend at the Cropp.

Any story about UK Softball this year would be remiss in not mentioning Christian Stokes. In addition to being the club's number one weapon on offense with a .321 average in 168 at bats, Stokes has a .959 fielding percentage. Her cannon has continuously been called upon this year on defense, and she leads the team with 156 assists to date this year. Seeing Christian work is truly worth the price of admission!

So, now that you're caught up - kinda - on the Cats, what should we expect to see this weekend?

Sadly, Friday night's game ended in a 1-7 loss against the Lady Vols. Ansley Smith brought home Brooklyn Hinz for the Cats' single run early in the 2nd inning on an RBI double. Last night's loss put the Cats just 5-17 in SEC Conference play. While the SEC is nearly as tough in softball as it is in women's basketball, with 9 teams in the top 25 to include current #1 Florida, that kind of record is definitely not going to help the Cats' resume as they move into the post season. Wins tonight and tomorrow at Lee Stadium would definitely give the Hittin' Kittens a much needed boost prior to the SEC Tournament next week.

Keys to getting the victories Kentucky so desperately needs:

  • Flawless performance in the circle. Coach Lawson used all three of her main pitchers last night and really could not get the defense going with her hurlers. I'm hoping to see Kelsey come out and lead off these next 2 games with a chip on her shoulder...her warrior attitude is critical.
  • For the Kittens? To be hittin'! Christian was struck out 3 of her four times at bat. Griffin didn't get so much as a hit. Poor Nikki Sagermann had 2 hits but kept getting stranded. In short? We've got to make our side of the inning count!
  • Play mentally smart. 2 Errors last night wasn't the reason we lost but it sure didn't help matters.

This club definitely has the chops to make it to OKC. But if they want to get there as anything but spectators, they need to start delivering quality wins.

And you can still get in on the fun! Tonight's game is at 7 PM EST on ESPNU, with the series finale tomorrow at 1 PM on ESPN. We'll be using this as the series thread for both games. Hope to see YOU tonight as we cheer our Cats onto victory!