May 5, 2014 7:37 PM
After winning a program record 41 games during regular-season play, the No. 10 University of Kentucky softball team looks to keep up its winning ways in postseason play, as it faces Mississippi State in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET at the Carolina Softball Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
The game between Kentucky (41-14) and Mississippi State (38-18) will open up tournament play on Wednesday and will be televised nationally on ESPNU, marking the seventh time this season UK has played on regional or national television. Live stats and free live radio of the event will be available online at UKathletics.com. Live video will be available on WatchESPN at the link below. Complete details on the 2014 SEC Tournament can be found at the tournament central page, here.
If Kentucky defeats Mississippi State on Wednesday, it will face No. 2 seed Tennessee on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET in the quarterfinals. If UK advances past the highly ranked Lady Vols, it will play in the first semifinal on Friday at 3 p.m. ET.
Kentucky (41-14) earned the No. 7 seed in the tournament with a 13-11 conference record, marking its fourth straight winning season in league action. Prior to seventh-year head coach Rachel Lawson taking over the program, UK had only posted a winning SEC record one time. This appearance in the four-day event marks the sixth-consecutive for Kentucky and it's eighth all-time. The Wildcats hold a 1-9 record all-time in the event after falling in the first round last year to South Carolina at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Ky.
The event, which is considered one of the most prestigious softball tournaments in the nation, will begin with two first-round games Wednesday, followed by four quarterfinals games on Thursday. Friday will feature two semifinal contests before the championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. The championship game will be televised on ESPN2, while all other games will be shown on ESPNU.
Kentucky, which will be joined at the event by top-seeded Alabama, followed by Tennessee, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Auburn and Mississippi State, has a 6-9 record this season against teams in the SEC tournament field. The Wildcats played five of the nine teams in the field. Of UK's eight conference opponents this season, six were ranked or receiving votes at the time UK played them with UK winning five league sets to tie the second most SEC series wins in program history.
One of the series wins for Kentucky was against Mississippi State in Starkville. The Wildcats took two of three games from the Bulldogs, who were receiving votes in both national polls at the time. Sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley was the star for Kentucky in the series, throwing the second no-hitter of her career in game one, striking out six batters to pace UK to the 4-0 victory. After MSU claimed a 2-1 walk-off win in game two to even the series, Nunley was brilliant again in the series finale, tossing seven scoreless innings with three hits allowed and three strikeouts. Four Wildcats hit home runs in the series, including a three-run homer from senior Krystal Smith, two-run shot by sophomore Nikki Sagermann and solo home runs from senior Ginny Carroll and sophomore Ansley Smith.
The Wildcats ended the regular season with 41 wins, breaking the program record for regular-season wins and tying the school record for most wins in a season overall. Kentucky's 41st win of the season came last week at Louisville, marking UK's first against the Cardinals at Ulmer Stadium since 2006 and the first season sweep of the Cardinals since 2003. UK completed regular-season play last weekend by dropping all three games to highly ranked Georgia in Athens, Ga.
Senior outfielder Emily Gaines leads Kentucky this season offensively with a .356 (37-for-104) average, including seven doubles, six homers and 35 RBI, while senior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess is hitting .342 (55-for-161) with 10 doubles, one triple, eight homers and 34 RBI. Sophomore outfielder Sylver Samuel has a .348 on-base percentage and a team-best 15 stolen bases, while Sagermann paces UK with 12 homers and 43 RBI, which both rank top 10 on UK's single season records list.
Nunley is the leader in the circle for Kentucky, sitting 21-7 with a 2.12 ERA in 188 innings pitched with 147 strikeouts. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., is the only player in school history to win 20 games in a season, accomplishing the feat in each of her first two seasons at Kentucky. Cumbess is 10-1 in the circle this season with a 2.04 ERA in 89 innings pitched. Freshmen Meagan Prince and Shannon Smith have seen time in the circle with Prince sitting 8-3 with a 3.55 ERA, while Smith is 2-3 with a 2.93 ERA.
Mississippi State has won eight of its last 12 games entering the tournament, including SEC series wins over the top two seeds in the tournament in Alabama and Tennessee. The Bulldogs posted a 10-14 record in conference play this season to grab the No. 10 seed in the tournament after not making the event last season. MSU is hitting .261 as a team with 261 runs scored and 33 home runs, while its pitching staff has been impressive with a 2.71 overall ERA, limiting opponents to a .212 average.
Mississippi State holds the all-time series lead vs. Kentucky at 28-21. After being swept by the Bulldogs in 2012, UK has won five of the last six games in the series. This is the first time the two teams have met in the SEC Tournament. Kentucky is 13-7 against Miss. State under head coach Rachel Lawson with all seven losses coming in Starkville.
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