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Wildcats end lengthy stretch of road games to begin SEC season against top-ranked LSU

After playing mostly road games during the first month of the season, Kentucky returns home this weekend to open SEC play against top-ranked LSU (UK Athletics Photo)

After playing mostly road games during the first month of the season, Kentucky returns home this weekend to open SEC play against top-ranked LSU (UK Athletics Photo)


After starting the season with 24 of its first 29 games on the road, including each of its first two Southeastern Conference series, the No. 15 University of Kentucky softball team starts a stretch of 17 of its next 22 games at John Cropp Stadium on Friday when it plays host to No. 1 LSU at 6 p.m.

The three-game series will be the SEC home opener for Kentucky (21-8, 1-5 SEC). UK and LSU (31-1, 5-1 SEC) will begin the series Friday before a noon start on Saturday and 1 p.m. series finale on Sunday. Friday and Sunday’s games will be televised on the SEC Network+ through the WatchESPN app, with Dave Baker and former Purdue head coach, Louisville associate head coach and Michigan assistant coach Carol Bruggeman calling the action.

Saturday’s game will be televised nationally on the SEC Network with Cara Capuano and Olympic Gold Medalist Michele Smith on the call. Live stats from all three games will be available online at UKathletics.com.

Single-game tickets are available and are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors (ages 65 or older) and youth (ages 6-18), while children ages five and under will be admitted free of charge. Tickets are available by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets. Tickets will be sold – cash only – on game days at the ticket booths outside the stadium with gates opening one hour prior to first pitch.

New for 2015 is the Family Fun Packs, which are available for Saturday and Sunday SEC games. Fans can purchase four tickets (two adult, two youth) and four food vouchers (each valid for a hotdog and small soda) for only $30. Family Fun Packs must be purchased in advance by calling the ticket office at 1-800-928-2287.

Other promotions at John Cropp Stadium over the weekend include the first 100 fans Friday receiving a limited edition set of 2015 UK softball trading cards. Saturday and Sunday are Family Fun Days at the park, featuring pregame and postgame youth activities, including face painting, hair bow making, inflatables, autographs and pictures with the team.

After Sunday’s game – weather permitting – all kids eighth grade and younger can run the bases.

Students that present a valid UK ID will receive free admission to all three games. A pregame block party will be held for students Friday and begin one hour before the game, featuring free food, giveaways, music, door prizes and more. A shuttle bus will run for students at the Wildcat Alumni Plaza (across from Memorial Coliseum) and The 90 at South Campus before and after the game.

Kentucky is coming off a stretch of nine games in nine days, including five of those games on the road. The Wildcats went 6-3 during that stretch, winning the first five games to extend its season-best winning streak to eight games, which tied the third-longest winning streak in program history. The stretch started with UK sweeping a three-game series against Ohio before a doubleheader sweep of Murray State and a victory over Indiana.

The week ended with UK dropping all three games at highly ranked Auburn.

Kentucky enters the weekend ranked No. 15 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Preseason Top 25 and No. 16 in the USA Today/NFCA Preseason Top 25. The Wildcats have played 10 games against ranked foes already with a 3-7 record, besting then-No. 5 Florida State, then-No. 10 Arizona and most recently No. 20 Texas A&M.

UK has 21 games remaining this season against teams either ranked or receiving votes in either poll, including three-game sets with No. 1/1 LSU, No. 2/3 Florida, No. 5/5 Alabama, No. 7/7 Georgia, No. 15/18 Tennessee and South Carolina, who is receiving votes. UK is also scheduled to play two games vs. Florida Atlantic and Louisville, who are receiving votes, and a single game vs. WKU, who is receiving votes in bot listings.

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Kentucky, who was listed at No. 20 in the first NCAA RPI that came out Monday, has 25 regular-season games left in 2015 with 23 of those games coming against NCAA RPI Top 50 teams, including nine games vs. RPI Top 5 teams and 15 games vs. RPI Top 15 teams.

Offensively, Kentucky has been led by junior shortstop Christian Stokes, who is hitting .374 (37-for-99) with five doubles, one triple, six homers and 18 RBI, while fellow junior utility player Maisie Steed is hitting .348 (24-for-69) with three doubles, five homers and 16 RBI. Stokes has eight multi-hit games this season, including seven games of three or more hits, while Steed has been on a hot streak the past few weeks with a hit in 18 of her last 23 games, including a home run in five of her last 11 games.

Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley paces the Wildcats with a 9-4 record and 1.89 ERA, striking out 71 batters in 81.1 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting just .204 against Nunley, who has six complete games and two saves. Freshman Erin Rethlake is 3-0 this season with a 1.25 ERA in 33.2 innings pitched and 24 strikeouts, while sophomore Meagan Prince is 8-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 61.2 innings pitched with 54 strikeouts.

Sophomore Shannon Smith is1-0 this year with a 4.02 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched with 24 strikeouts.

From UK Athletics

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