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Sixth-ranked softball Cats challenged early as season gets underway with Florida swing

Three conference champions will help Kentucky open its softball season this week during a swing through Florida (UK Athletics Photo)

Three conference champions will help Kentucky open its softball season this week during a swing through Florida (UK Athletics Photo)


The last time the University of Kentucky softball team was on the diamond it was playing against college softball’s best in the 2014 Women’s College World Series. It will start its 2015 season on Thursday in similar fashion in Tallahassee, Fla., as the Wildcats will play five games against three teams that claimed conference championships last season.

Kentucky will start its 19th season of softball on Thursday at 4 p.m. in a true road game, taking on Florida A&M, champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament Championship in 2014 and participants in the NCAA Gainesville Regional. After a day off, the Wildcats will play two games against Florida State, who participated in the 2014 WCWS and won the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship, and Georgia Southern, the 2014 SoCon regular season champions.

Kentucky’s contests with FSU and GSU are part of the Renegade Classic, which is hosted by Florida State University at JoAnne Graf Field. The tournament will begin for UK on Saturday with a noon battle with No. 5 Florida State before a 2:30 p.m. game versus Georgia Southern. Play concludes on Sunday when Kentucky takes on Georgia Southern at 10 a.m. before facing the Seminoles at 12:30 p.m.

Florida A&M went 25-29 last season, including a 7-9 mark at home and 18-20 record away from home. Sophomore Whitney Farris and Amber Fullwood paced the team last season in average. Farris hit .327 with a double and three RBI, while Fullwood hit .305 with 10 doubles, one triple and two homers. Sophomore Denise Anderson led the team in home runs with five, adding 30 RBI. In the circle, sophomore Kenya Pereira led the team with a 9-9 record and 3.34 ERA, striking out 63 in 123.2 innings pitched.

Kentucky won the lone previous meeting 9-0 between the two teams back in 2004. The contest was a season opener for Kentucky in Miami, Fla.

Florida State finished the 2014 season with a 55-9 record, including an impressive 24-3 mark in ACC play and 27-2 listing at home. FSU enters the weekend ranked fifth in the nation in both preseason rankings. Anchoring the Seminoles this season is senior shortstop Maddie O’Brien and senior pitcher Lacey Waldrop. O’Brien was a first-team All-American last season, hitting .424 with 17 doubles, 24 homers and 83 RBI. Waldrop was the USA Softball National Player of the Year, ending the season with a 38-7 record and 1.13 ERA, striking out 287 batters in 266.1 innings pitched.

The all-time series is tied 1-1 between Kentucky and Florida State with both games occurring in 2011. Both games were played in Tallahassee, Fla., with FSU winning the first battle 2-0 before Kentucky claimed the second a day later 7-2. The games were played as part of an early season tournament, which also featured Georgia Southern.

The Eagles are coming off a 35-21 season that included a 17-4 mark at home and 18-17 record away from home. Sophomore outfielder Taylor Rogers returns for Georgia Southern after hitting .381 last season with one double, five RBI and 16 stolen bases. The Eagles lost both of their leading power hitters, but return sophomore Morgan Robinson, who had five homers. In the circle, Georgia Southern returns senior Brooke Red, who went 13-6 with a 2.46 ERA in 122.1 innings pitched with 124 strikeouts.

Kentucky leads the all-time series with Georgia Southern 2-1, having played the Eagles in 2011 and 2012. UK played two games against the Eagles in Tallahassee, Fla., in 2011, winning both games. The last meeting came in 2012 with GSU defeating UK 2-1 in Statesboro, Ga.

After a program-best 50 wins and advancing to the school’s first Women’s College World Series last season, Kentucky begins the 2015 season with its highest preseason ranking in school history, coming in at No. 6 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25 and No. 7 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25.

Kentucky ended the 2014 season ranked sixth in both listings – its highest final rankings in program history. The rankings put the final stamp on the winningest season in UK softball history, which started with 12 consecutive wins, marking the longest winning streak in school history and the best start to a season in program history.

The Wildcats ended the season by making the most successful run in program history in two of the game’s most prestigious tournaments. UK advanced to the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in early May before winning the NCAA Lexington Regional and NCAA Los Angeles Super Regional to advance to the WCWS. All told, UK defeated a school-record 15 ranked teams in 2014, including six wins over top-10 teams. In Lawson’s seven years, UK has defeated a school record 55 top-25 teams.

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Kentucky returns 13 letterwinners from 2014, including six starters and three pitchers. Senior catcher Griffin Joiner, who has started 184 consecutive games behind the plate, returns after hitting .309 last year with 11 doubles, 10 homers and 39 RBI. UK’s leading home run hitter in 2014 also returns in junior infielder Nikki Sagermann, as does UK’s stolen base leader in junior outfielder Sylver Samuel.

In the circle, Kentucky returns WCWS All-Tournament Team honoree Kelsey Nunley, who went 30-11 last season with a 1.88 ERA in 282.1 innings pitched with 219 strikeouts and a .213 opponent batting average. Sophomores Meagan Prince and Shannon Smith also return. The two underclassmen teamed up to go 10-7 last year in 111.1 innings pitched.

Kentucky will open its 2015 home schedule on March 11 against Eastern Kentucky. Season tickets for the 2015 season are on sale now for $35 per seat and are general admission tickets (no reserved seating). Season tickets include all regular-season home games, including four three-game home sets in SEC play against LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia.

From UK Athletics

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