Overall Rank: #41
Conference Rank: #10 SEC
Who says Kentucky is all about basketball? The school’s softball program is enjoying a memorable run right about now. The Wildcats have been to the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons, and a brand new stadium awaits players (and potential recruits) for the 2013 campaign. As always, the Southeastern Conference will be loaded for bear, with 10 teams among the top 44 in the nation, but Kentucky has proven capable of withstanding a hard schedule in the past. The Wildcats aren’t about to stop their momentum now, especially if it means dealing revenge to in-state rival Louisville for its tournament loss a year ago.
2012: 30-30, 15-13
2012 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Rachel Lawson
Four of the top five players from last year’s team are back on the field; the fifth, graduate Brittany Cervantes, is now a volunteer assistant coach for the program so she won’t be too far from the action. Second baseman Kara Dill is the team’s leading hitter and base stealer, and her durability will help this roster be strong once again. Catcher Griffin Joiner, outfielder Alice O’Brien and first baseman Lauren Cumbess are all back as well, and all four of these players hit over .250 a year ago. Kentucky hit .254 as a team, and that batting average will have to go up if the team hopes to contend in the SEC. Kentucky will definitely miss Cervantes’ home-run pop (13 long balls hit a year ago), and Rachel Riley’s seven homers are also gone thanks to her graduation. Ginny Carroll and Emily Jolly will have to sharpen their bats to help a team that has lost nearly half of its home-run power.
With Chanda Bell having used up her eligibility, she moves into a student assistant coach position, and she will most likely work with the pitchers that are back. Bell went 16-13 a year ago with 201 strikeouts to just 68 walks, so someone will have to replace that good 3-to-1 ratio. Cumbess is positioned to take more innings if necessary, having gone 3-4 in 45 innings last year. Ellen Weaver is also back, but like Cumbess she didn’t pitch an awful lot.
Who to Watch:
With the pitching staff hit hard by graduation losses, someone to watch for 2013 could be Katie Henderson. She comes from Hixson, Tennessee, which is not in-state and is part of the Kentucky-Tennessee border war, but any help would be appreciated now. Henderson could make Kentucky fans forget her Tennessee roots if she does one of two things: beat Louisville or replicate a high-school season that saw her pitch six shutouts and 235 strikeouts on the way to an all-state season. There is no guarantee Henderson will be one of the top pitchers, but she will likely be pressed into service at an early point. She was used in fall ball as a starting pitcher, so that is a good sign.
How well Kentucky does in 2013 will hinge on two factors besides the strength of the SEC schedule. Finding a way to replace 20 home runs overnight isn’t going to happen, but the team needs to develop some power for the spring schedule. The pitching also has to come around, whether it is a combination of Cumbess and Weaver or whether Henderson fits into that equation. A tough schedule, including Alabama, Oklahoma, California and Arizona State – all four top seeds in last year’s College World Series – awaits Kentucky when play begins in February. That tough schedule should prepare Kentucky adequately for the rigors of the SEC, and from there Kentucky should have another 30-win season and an appearance in the Big Dance.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
At Bats: Kara Dill, IF, 202
Hits: Kara Dill, IF, 71
Home Runs: Ginny Carroll, IF, 7
RBIs: Kara Dill, IF; Ginny Carroll, IF; Lauren Cumbess, P/IF, 18
Runs: Kara Dill, IF, 37
Stolen Bases: Kara Dill, IF, 21
Wins: Lauren Cumbess, P/IF, 3
Innings Pitched: Ellen Weaver, P/OF, 48
Strikeouts: Lauren Cumbess, P/IF, 45
Madness 2013 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#102 Kelsey Nunley