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SEC Softball Tournament Preview: Kentucky

Chris Parent /

The Game

Thursday – 2:30 PM, SECN, 107.3 FM

Regular Season Recap

Kentucky began the season 18th in both polls and has been on the upward swing for most of the season, now ranking just outside the top-10 at number 11. UK’s OOC schedule included victories over currently ranked Oregon and Notre Dame, along with wins over a quality Arizona State and Lehigh. Against SEC teams, Kentucky earned victories over LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas but lost series to Alabama and was swept by Auburn.

Scouting Report

SEC pitcher of the year Kelsey Nunley, who posted a 1.22 ERA and 189 strikeouts in the regular season, anchors one of the best staffs in the SEC. Kentucky’s staff as a whole is very impressive, ranking second in the conference in staff ERA, opponents’ batting average and strikeouts. Kentucky is one of two teams in the conference to allow under 100 earned runs during the regular season. Beyond Nunley, Meagan Price is almost as impressive with a 1.75 ERA and 110 strikeouts on the season.

Kentucky’s offense does not quite matchup with the pitching. The team ranks in the bottom half of the conference in most major categories, including ninth in runs scored at 263. Although not necessarily potent, the Wildcats have some interesting pieces. Abbey Cheek and her team best nine home runs provide a bulk of the Kentucky power, while Sylver Samuel’s 21 steals adds some speed to the lineup and Nikki Sagerman does a solid job of reaching base (.444 OBP) and hitting for power (.492 SLG).

Tigers keys to success

The Turnaround

After a hard fought, come from behind, somewhat revenge game Wednesday, the Tigers mindset shifts from the favorite to the underdog against Kentucky. Like A&M, Kentucky bested the Tigers during the regular season, so this game has a little extra incentive for LSU. It’s unknown what lineup changes Torina might have for this game. Regardless, the Tigers must come out sharp against Nunley and the Wildcats.

In the Circle

Last time the Tigers faced the Wildcats, LSU’s pitchers did a solid job matching up against Kentucky’s hurlers. The same must hold true for Thursday’s game. Torina will have some interesting decisions regarding the deployment of Sydney Smith, Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper. With Kentucky lacking an elite offense, the Tigers might just need one pitcher to manage the Wildcat offense.

Estimated Outcome

Over her career, Nunley has a 1.38 ERA in 60.2 innings against the Tigers. It’s difficult to see those numbers adjusting much on Thursday. Try as the Tigers might, this is going to be a low-scoring affair. LSU did a good job at managing the Kentucky lineup during the regular season without Smith, and the freshman could be even more of a key this time around. This will be a close game with limited runs, and the runs that do come figure to come late in the game.