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After enduring tough schedule, UK, Lawson enter post-season play with a clean slate


Despite a modest 5-19 record in SEC play, Kentucky earned its seventh straight at-large NCAA Regional bid based on its strength of schedule (UK Athletics Photo)

Despite a modest 5-19 record in SEC play, Kentucky earned its seventh straight at-large NCAA Regional bid based on its strength of schedule (UK Athletics Photo)

 

Kentucky softball head coach Rachel Lawson and senior catcher Griffin Joiner held a brief media availability on Wednesday prior to Kentucky leaving for the NCAA South Bend Regional. The Wildcats will play at 2 p.m. on Friday against Northwestern at Melissa Cook Stadium in the double-elimination regional. Below are comments about the post-season from Lawson and Joiner. Click here for regional ticket information.
 

Head coach Rachel Lawson
 

On the seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances …
“Well, it’s our seventh straight tournament and there are not a lot of programs that have been able to do this consecutively. It means that we are able to build and that we are a program, not just a team. It means each year we merge new players into the program and they do a good job and understand what it means to go the postseason. I think we are one of the better programs in the country and you can tell that because we have gone to multiple postseasons in a row.”
 

On this being a fresh start despite recent struggles …
“I know that everybody wants to stress that, but you have to learn from the regular season. The nice thing about the postseason is everybody starts with a clean slate from the standpoint of the seeding doesn’t matter as much in a regional because you aren’t playing a lot of games. In that regard, it is nice because you do have a fresh start. With that said, I think playing such a tough schedule was actually good for us and if we can learn from everything that happened in the season and hopefully be better prepared for the postseason we can do a nice job.”
 

On the team’s mindset …
“We are really fortunate because John Cropp — who our stadium is named after — used to tell me when I first got here that worrying is just praying for something bad to happen. That is kind of our mindset all the time. We understand that we have fallen short for a lot of reasons and hopefully we have tightened up. We have had about six great days of practice and we haven’t had that since January. I think the fact that we have been able to focus on those things and the individual techniques that are required so we end up coming through in the end. I think we are going to be OK.”
 

On last year’s WCWS trip and how that experience plays a factor this season …
“I think the experience does. I think the team that has the most experience when you walk on the field, you are not as nervous, you know what to expect and know what pregame is about and media and all those things. That certainly gives us an advantage. I think the other thing you understand is that when you are in the postseason, it doesn’t matter what you did the previous season, you have to play well this weekend. Having that mindset is what has been able to carry us and we have had that mindset for seven years now.”
 

On what she liked about practice …
“I like the intensity of the practice and the passion. The other thing from a tactical standpoint was the defense was a lot better and a lot cleaner and we were making diving catches and attacking balls that we used to sit back on. The postseason is about pitching and defense and then hopefully you luck out and get those timely hits. I think our defense being so clean is what I liked the most about the last week of practice.”
 

On the team’s leadership …
“Well we’re really fortunate because we have a lot of leaders. We’re great in the classroom and we have a lot of experienced players. I think the main thing I want them to be able to do is to understand is they have to go out and they have to play quick and they have to play light and they have to make sure that they’re focused one pitch at a time. I think sometimes when you’re younger or when you’re inexperienced you don’t understand that and you let the situation around you take over. But I’m hoping that the leaders are able to keep everybody focused on the moment and then be able to put it together one pitch at a time so at the end of the day we end up on the winning end of things.”
 

Griffin Joiner
 

On whether they look at the tournament as a fresh start …
“Yes, definitely. We’ve had a good week of practice since the SEC Tournament and we’re just ready to go out and play again.”
 

On the state of the program with seven consecutive tournament appearances …
“I think it says a lot. We play a tough schedule every year and it’s just good to get back in there, no matter if we’re hosting or not. Just the fact that we have a chance to play in it and see what we can do.”
 

On what making the tournament says about the consistency of the program …
“I think it says a lot about the program that Coach Lawson’s built and the type of coach that she is. She’s able to take whatever team that she has and coach them into the postseason.”
 

On the tough finish to the season …
“Honestly we’re just trying to take the positives out of it and kind of move on from the past and move forward and look at what’s ahead. That’s the next pitch and the next game that we play.”
 

On why they’ve had good practices this week …
“We just had more time to focus on the things that we need to focus on. It’s kind of (hard to do that) during the grind of the season. You play every day, so it’s just been good to be able to slow down and focus a little bit.”
 

On what they take away from postseason experience last year …
“I think we learned in the postseason last year that it’s about just going out there and playing and not thinking too much. So I think we’re going to try to have that same mindset during regionals this weekend. Just take it one pitch at a time.”
 

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On whether it’s different to travel for regionals …
“I mean, it’s a little different but we like traveling. I kind of like, personally, going somewhere else because we have a set schedule, no distractions. So I’m looking forward to that.”
 

On whether there is more bonding on the road …
“Yeah, because we’re on a bus for a long time and people start singing.”
 

On the keys to advancing …
“I think we just have to focus on what we need to do and not get caught up in everything else.”
 

More on the keys to advancing …
“Just compete. That’s the one word I would say. Just compete. Not worry about anything else. Just go out there and play to win.”
 

Joiner, Nunley named to Southeast All-Region third team
 

Kentucky senior catcher Griffin Joiner and junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley have been named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Southeast All-Region Third Team for their strong on-field performances this season, it was announced Thursday.
 

Joiner was the lone catcher named to the third team and one of only three catchers listed on the first, second or third teams. Nunley was one of four pitchers on the third team, while eight pitchers received regional honors overall. This is the second NFCA honor for Joiner and Nunley, who were also named to the region’s third team last season.
 

The multiple all-region honors mark the fifth time under eight-year head coach Rachel Lawson that UK has had two or more honorees. Lawson has led 10 players to 16 NFCA all-region honors during her time in Lexington. A full list of honorees from every region can be found at NFCA.org.
 

Joiner, who became the first catcher to ever earn three straight Southeastern Conference All-Defensive Team honors last week, is having a great season for Kentucky at the plate and behind it. She is hitting .301 this season with eight doubles, one triple, team-best 11 homers and 40 RBI.
 

The native of Hopkinsville, Ky., has started every game of her collegiate career and ranks top 10 in program history in hits, RBI, batting average, doubles, walks, at-bats, home runs, slugging percentage, total bases, putouts and fielding percentage. Joiner is one of only two players in school history to hit 10 or more home runs three or more seasons. Defensively, Joiner has been solid behind the plate with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage and limiting opponents to just six stolen bases this season with eight runners caught stealing.
 

Nunley doesn’t have the stat line of years past, but she has pitched well in the circle in 2015 with a 2.45 ERA, 169 strikeouts and opponents hitting just .231 against her.
 

The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., is 12-14 this season with wins against highly ranked LSU, Arizona, Florida State and Texas A&M. Nunley has five saves this season, which set a new program record for saves in a season, while she has 14 complete games and three shutouts. Nunley’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider Kentucky played 11 games against teams that rank top 15 nationally in batting average, 15 games against teams that rank top 20 nationally in scoring and nine games against teams that rank top 10 nationally in home runs.
 

Kentucky will make its seventh straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 2 p.m. ET against Northwestern. The Wildcats are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA South Bend Regional being hosted by No. 16 national seed Norte Dame.
 

From UK Athletics


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