Kentucky softball faces challenging 2023 schedule in hopes of making a run to College World Series


Michael Clubb

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Rachel Lawson watches the University of Kentucky vs. Alabama softball game on Saturday, March 27, 2021, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 11-6. Photo by Michael Clubb | Kentucky Kernel

Aaron Benjamin, Reporter

Kentucky softball won’t have an easy path to the college softball regionals in the 2023 campaign, and that’s putting things lightly.

The team is set to face a plethora of tough opponents meant to test the squad to prepare it for later in the season when it gets into the SEC Tournament and possibly beyond it.

Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson, entering year 16 in charge of the program, acknowledged the difficult schedule during the team’s pre-season media day.

“With that said, this is a tough schedule. We’re back to the scheduling that we had prior to COVID, not that I don’t like talking about that much,” she said.

Lawson acknowledged the season wouldn’t be easy and that she prefers the difficulty to prove that the Cats are a top team that can go out and compete with other elite teams ranked in preseason top 25 polls.

“When you have this type of schedule, what happens is we’re very excited for the year, we have a lot of talent and there’s a lot of energy… it’s a very exciting time but we also got to make sure we’re playing at an elite level right away,” she said.

Kentucky Wildcat freshman Erin Coffel (21) prepares to bat during the UK vs. Morehead State game on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Cropp Softball Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 13-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

The gauntlet kicked off on Friday when the Cats began the 2023 NFCA Lead-Off Classic in Clearwater, Florida, sweeping its opening double-header against Louisville and St. Johns and tying top 10 ranked Texas, the reigning Women’s College World Series runners-up.

The Cats will be tested again on Friday, Feb. 24, with the team set to have another tough matchup against the UCLA Bruins, with the game set to be held at Wrigley Field in Palm Springs, California. The Bruins are ranked No. 2 in the country in the USA Today Nation Fastpitch Coaches Association Coaches Poll.

The very next day, Feb. 25, Kentucky is set to play Northwestern at another park that shares a name with an MLB stadium, Fenway Field. The two games are scheduled as part of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.

The road doesn’t get any easier for Rachel Lawson’s squad as it enters March as the Wildcats take on No. 1 Oklahoma, the reigning national champions, not once but twice, on March 3 and 4. To make matters worse, the games will be played in Norman, Oklahoma.

The Cats will then take on several challenging opponents throughout March, including three-game series against Texas A&M and Missouri and a rematch with Louisville, which the Cats defeated 8-0 on Feb. 10.

To start off the month of April the Cats will travel to Athens, Georgia, to start a short series with the Bulldogs before immediately heading west to Oxford, Mississippi, to play three against the Rebels, who are ranked just outside the top 25.

The conference stretch will be crucial for the Cats and will be pivotal in showing how good the team can be: a squad that will be done by mid-May or a squad that will fight its way to Oklahoma City.

April 14-16 sees the Cats welcome the Volunteers of Tennessee to Lexington.

Then, after a quick stop in Highland Heights to play Northern Kentucky, UK will play Arkansas, ranked No. 7 in the preseason poll, in a three-game series from April 21-23.

To wrap up the month, the Cats will travel to Starkville in a series of against the No. 23 ranked Bulldogs.

Luckily for Kentucky, it gets to end the regular season against No. 4 Florida at home as opposed to on the road.

Following the conference gauntlet, the Cats will travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the SEC Tournament.

Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson talks to an umpire during the UK vs. Oklahoma softball game on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Oklahoma won 9-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Whether or not Kentucky is a legitimate World Series contender is yet to be determined and likely won’t be known for certain for a while, but with the path already having begun to be paved in Clearwater, Florida, the tests have already begun.

Kentucky will return to action on Friday, Feb. 17, in Denton, Texas, against UT Arlington as part of the 2023 North Texas Tournament. The game is scheduled to begin at noon EST.