#21 Kentucky Softball 2016 Preview

Kentucky Wildcats
Overall Rank: #21
Conference Rank: #8 SEC
 Kentucky Logo
It would have been easy for Kentucky to just be happy to be in the NCAA Tournament after going through a tough 5-19 Southeastern conference portion of its schedule. But, under the direction of head coach Rachel Lawson the Wildcats showed tremendous resolve by finding a way to win the South Bend Regional and make it back to the Gainesville Super Regional last season. The combination of a college World Series appearance in 2014 and fighting for a Super Regional in 2015 are clear signs of a program that has developed a true championship mindset. Now, the next step for Kentucky is making sure they don’t repeat going 5-19 in conference play in 2016 so they have a better seed in the postseason.
2015: 32-26, 5-19
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Rachel Lawson
Field Players:
The overall offensive production is going to have to improve in 2016 in order for the Wildcats to make a run at winning 40 or more games. The Wildcats were a plus 42 in run differential, but they only scored 223 runs as a team in 2015. It will take big season from infielder Nikki Sagermann, who hit .303 and can hit for plenty of power. But she won’t be able to do it alone. Infielders Christian Stokes and Maisie Steed are also going to have pick up their offensive numbers to compensate for the graduation of Griffin Joiner, who hit 11 homeruns and drove in a team high 43 runs last season.
Senior Kelsey Nunley is back in the circle as the ace of the staff and will be looking to bounce back from a 14-16 season in 2015. Nunley’s numbers overall were fine as she struck out 194 batters, walked 67, and limited opponents to a .229 batting average in a very offensive heavy SEC. if Nunley can get some more run support, she should win in the neighborhood of 22-25 games or more in 2016. Junior Meagan Prince will be back as the number two starter and did a nice job in 2015 as a whole, going 13-8 with a 3.43 earned run average.
Who to Watch:
Senior outfielder Sylver Samuel is going to be a vital piece to the puzzle if Kentucky is going to improve in 2016. Samuel stole 20 bases in 23 attempts and the Wildcats were 13-3 in games that she stole a base. Samuel also hits for a high average, as she will be looking to surge past the .300 mark in 2016 after hitting .297 last season.
Final Projection:
Kentucky will hit the ground running in 2016 as they will play Notre Dame, Oregon, Utah and Arizona State during the opening weekend of the season at the Kajikawa Classic. The following weekend will bring a trip to San Diego for the 2016 Campbell/Cartier Classic and that will test the Wildcats with games against San Diego State and California. A trip to Columbia, South Carolina to play the Gamecocks from March 11-13 will be a tonesetter for the rest of the difficult conference schedule. It would boost the confidence of this veteran Kentucky team if they could get 2 of 3 against South Carolina. One break for the Wildcats is that they will miss Florida, but they do have a gauntlet of LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Missouri to deal with. If the Wildcats can hang around .500 against those teams, it will keep them from being a bubble team and safely secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. It is going to come down to significant improvement offensively in order for the Wildcats to make a run to Oklahoma City in 2016.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Christian Stokes, IF, 178
Hits: Christian Stokes, IF, 56
Home Runs: Nikki Sagermann, IF,8
RBIs: Maisie Steed, IF, 28
Runs: Nikki Sagermann, IF, 35
Stolen Bases: Sylver Samuel, OF, 20
Wins: Kelsey Nunley P,14
Innings Pitched: Kelsey Nunley, P, 211.0
Strikeouts: Kelsey Nunley, P, 194
Saves: Kelsey Nunley, P, 5
Madness 2016 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#30 Lauren Lewis
#35 Katie Reed