OKLAHOMA CITY — Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson admits she had a backup plan if ace Kelsey Nunley’s work load became too big a burden.
Since the Southeastern Conference tournament, Nunley has thrown 10 complete games, encompassing more than 1,230 pitches over 73 innings.
But the sophomore pitcher never gave her reason to deviate.
“She continues to keep her velocity up, and she’s strong,” Lawson said Wednesday. “I imagine she’ll get the ball.”
So, expect to see the right-hander at 6 p.m. Thursday, when the No. 14 seed Wildcats (49-17) face sixth-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette (49-8-1) in their College World Series opener at ASA Hall of Stadium.
UK has viable backup arms in senior Lauren Cumbess (10-1, 2.07 ERA) and freshman Meagan Price (8-4, 3.47) if Nunley runs into turbulence.
Lawson rested Nunley (29-9, 1.85) in the SEC tournament final in a 3-1 loss against Georgia, largely because she had never thrown four games in a weekend.
“But as we rolled into postseason, Kelsey not only did a great job but she came into her own,” Lawson said.
Yet Lawson admits she “doesn’t think any team can win the World Series with one pitcher,” a reality that may force her to call on Cumbess, who has not thrown since May 10 against Georgia. Meanwhile, Prince has also endured at least a 19-day layoff from live action.
“We are going to have to go deep into our pitching staff, and they’ve been in big games, so it will definitely be OK,” she said.
Softball scoring with fans
Oh, and low-scoring duels between elite arms in the circle may be waning, too.
Lawson said the growth of broadcasts online and over TV have increased the amount of video available to scout, programs are bumping up pay to bring in elite coaches and rule changes have skewed toward promoting scoring.
“You’re seeing the fan base go up tremendously,” she said. “I think the offense has actually contributed to all the spectators we’re getting in the sport.”
UL-Lafayette pitcher Christina Hamilton and catcher Lexie Elkins landed on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Americans on Wendesday.
Hamilton, a junior with a 29-2 record and 1.53 ERA, was on the second team, and Elkins earned third-team honors after batting .388 with 22 home runs and 72 RBIs.
LSU freshman Sahvanna Jaquish was also a second-team All-American. She led the Tigers, who exited the NCAA tournament with a regional final loss at Arizona, with a .341 batting average and hit 17 home runs to go with 77 RBIs.
Oklahoma’s path to a possible repeat national championship certainly took shuffling.
Over six games in the regional and super regional round, the Sooners used six different lineups.
Injuries had also exacted a toll.
The No. 7 seed Sooners were without slugger Lauren Chamberlain for 25 games with a knee injury. Replacement Kady Self played in 45 games before tearing her ACL.
Third baseman Shelby Pendley, who hadn’t pitched since high school, became a reliable arm with a 1.73 ERA in 21 appearances.
And Georgia Casey moved from second base to shortstop, while outfield Brittany Williams shuffled from the outfield to first base while Chamberlain was sidelined.
“They’ve just pieced some things together,” Sooners coach Patty Gasso said. “I’ve seen them grow up quite a bit, mature as softball athletes but also into young women. So it’s been a journey that is something I’ll never forget, and this is just kind of the icing on top of all of it.”