COLUMN: Is Kentucky softball simply middle of the pack in the SEC?


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats catcher Kayla Kowalik (99) swings the bat during the No. 16 Kentucky vs. Dayton softball home opener game on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky softball will take on a pivotal three-game series against No. 6 Tennessee at home this weekend.

While Kentucky, currently ranked No. 16 in the nation, has as good of a chance as any to get the series win against the Vols, especially in Lexington, it arguably has an even higher chance of being handily defeated by Tennessee.

In fact, against opponents currently ranked within the top 25, Kentucky holds a 3-8-1 record, having lost eight of its last 10 games against ranked opponents.

Looking at the SEC alone, Kentucky has played four conference series, holding a 7-5 record, which drops to 2-4 against ranked conference opponents.

The figures are especially concerning for a team that, just weeks prior, had been ranked No. 11 in the country, just narrowly missing out on the top 10. It’s hard to picture the Cats belonging in the top 10 this season, considering the team is currently 1-5-1 against current top 10 teams.

Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Alecia Lacatena (35) pitches the ball during the No. 16 Kentucky vs. Louisville softball game on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 7-4. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Now, it may be hasty to say a team currently just outside the top 15 in the country is merely average, but the results speak for themselves.

While obvious to many that No. 1 Oklahoma is in a league of its own, currently on a run of form that may very well go down as the greatest in collegiate softball history, it doesn’t make the fact that Kentucky was obliterated 18-0 any better. The Cats did have a better performance in a second game against Oklahoma, but “better” was still a 7-1 loss.

It’s also worth noting that, entering the first game against Oklahoma, Kentucky was already on a two-game losing streak against currently ranked opponents, suffering a 6-3 loss to No. 2 UCLA and a 9-3 loss against No. 20 Northwestern.

Finally entering conference play on March 10, fans may have taken a sigh of relief when UK swept then No. 23 Missouri by a combined 16-0.

That sigh of relief is likely long gone now, though, with Missouri being unranked and 3-12 in conference play (24-18 overall).

The Wildcats took care of business in its next three games, defeating Saint Louis (which is now 15-22 overall) 6-3, DePaul (which currently stands at 12-21) 11-3 and defeated Michigan (which is currently 20-15) 2-1, not exactly setting the world on fire.

Entering its second SEC series of the year, Kentucky was punched in the mouth by Texas A&M.

Despite going up 5-0 after one inning and holding a five-run lead with two innings left to play, the Wildcats were outscored 8-2 in innings six and seven to suffer a 14-13 loss.

Seemingly dazed from blowing such a lead, Kentucky was blitzed in game two of the double header against the Aggies 10-0 in five innings.

Kentucky players gather at the pitching circle during the No. 16 Kentucky vs. Louisville softball game on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 7-4. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

While Kentucky managed to record a 10-2 win in game three, the double header was very telling and very worrying.

Kentucky seemed to bounce back with a 7-4 win over a Louisville team that had been receiving votes for the top 25, but it would be for naught as the Cats were beaten in Athens against No. 9 Georgia in games one and two of the series.

The Wildcats managed to salvage their dignity once again in game three with a 4-0 win, but it didn’t stop the team from falling to 5-4 in conference play and 1-2 in conference series.

Kentucky would pick up another series win last weekend against Ole Miss, beating the Rebels 4-3 in game one and 7-5 in game two, but the home team bounced back in game three, beating Kentucky by a score of 9-3 to outscore the Cats in the series.

It would be important to mention here that Ole Miss is 24-18 overall and just 3-9 in the SEC, having suffered losses to the likes of Stephen F. Austin, Southeast Missouri State, Mount St. Mary’s and Samford. Again, hardly setting the world on fire.

It’s hard to say Kentucky softball isn’t a good team, with the Cats standing at 25-10-1 overall and being ranked No. 16, but for a team that currently has one of the best players in program history on the roster, it is a tad disappointing how painfully average it is.

While it could be the success of the baseball team spoiling Kentucky fans after disappointing seasons from the mens and womens basketball teams and the football team, drinking from the Kentucky softball fountain is comparable to drinking a glass of room temperature water. It’s hardly a negative experience, but it’s hardly a positive one either. It merely … is.

Game one between Kentucky and Tennessee is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. EST on Friday, April 14, from John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky.