By: Cody Porter
The 16-20 UK softball team returns to action in a three-game series with South Carolina (22-16, 2-9 SEC) beginning Friday after being on the road for two consecutive weekend conference series.
UK’s last home conference series was when it was swept by one-loss No. 2 Alabama. The team followed that performance up with a series win over No. 24 Auburn on the road.
At home again, the Cats look to carry over the late-inning success they had against Louisville Wednesday before ultimately falling to the Cardinals 2-1.
Much like Louisville, South Carolina is a top-50 scoring team in the NCAA.
Coming in at 36, the Gamecocks have pushed across 208 runs in 38 games. Aiding that stat is their .308 team batting average on 306 hits that also ranks 36th overall.
South Carolina’s senior Lauren Lackey and junior Samie Garcia both are hitting more than .400 on the season.
Lackey’s 46 hits and 16 RBI have helped earn her the team-leading .414 average. Garcia’s team-leading 49 hits has helped manufacture her .405 batting average that is second to only Lackey.
UK seniors Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley will lead the way for the pitching staff as they look to slow the hot-hitting Gamecocks.
Bell, the only pitcher with a record more than .500 (8-7), has a team-leading 2.41 ERA and 101 strikeouts, but late-inning comebacks by the opposition have hampered some of her opportunities to earn a better record.
The senior is also close to reaching UK’s top 10 for strikeouts in a single-season for the fourth season in a row.
Riley has been more productive this season at the plate with a team-high 21 RBI, but has the second most appearances on the mound and complete games pitched for the Cats.
Head coach Rachel Lawson has been fortunate so far this season to also have sophomores Ellen Weaver and Lauren Cumbess. Their presence in the rotation has made it so the Cats haven’t had to start one pitcher twice in the same series.
Despite pitching 38.1 innings, Cumbess has allowed a much lower batting average to the opposition (.220) to back up her 3.29 ERA that ranks second for the team.
One factor that could play into the Cats’ favor is that the Gamecocks’ softball squad hasn’t played since a March 31 double-header victory over Longwood.
Lawson’s club, however, has played three times since then.
The series with the Gamecocks starts Friday with a 6:30 p.m. opening pitch. Games on Saturday and Sunday are scheduled for 1 p.m. starts.