For the first time in program history, the LSU softball team goes on the road as the No. 1 team in the country when it visits No. 16 Kentucky this weekend.
The Tigers are 31-1 and 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference after winning four consecutive home games in the wake of their inaugural ascension to the top of the polls 10 days ago.
“It’s going to be different,” catcher Kellsi Kloss said. “We know everyone is gunning for us. We know we have a target on our back, but we just have to keep playing LSU softball and not get out of our element.
“Every game we say it’s opponent No. 31, 32 or 33. It’s just another game to us. If we take care of ourselves, we should be fine.”
The Tigers, who have mercy-ruled consecutive ranked opponents for the first time in school history, are expecting a bigger challenge than the Wildcats’ SEC record might suggest. Kentucky is 21-8 and 1-5 in the conference after being swept at Auburn last weekend.
“I think Kentucky is always very well-coached and very well-prepared. I have no doubt they will be this time,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “They’re coming off a tough weekend against Auburn, and I think they’ve always rebounded well in the history of their program. We need to be prepared to give them our best game, no matter what their record is.”
Eighth-year coach Rachel Lawson is the winningest coach in Wildcats history. She has led Kentucky to three NCAA super regionals in the past four seasons — and last season, the Wildcats won a school-record 50 games and reached the Women’s College World Series for the first time.
One of the keys to Kentucky’s success has been junior right-hander Kelsey Nunley (9-4, 1.89). She has started four of the Wildcats’ six SEC games.
LSU, on the other hand, has more balance in its rotation. Allie Walljasper has started nine games, Baylee Corbello has started eight and Carley Hoover and Kelsee Selmon have started seven each. All four have made at least one SEC start.
“It’s amazing, honestly, to have all four of these arms,” Torina said. “It’s been a difference-maker. People don’t really know who to prepare for on any given day. We always have that in our back pocket.
“I think at the end of a series you can have a fresh arm, whereas last (year) we really scrambled on Sunday to figure out who we were going to put out there and how we were going to hold them that third game. Just having that other arm has been huge for us.”
The Wildcats are playing their first home SEC series and have played just five home games. The high for Friday is forecast to be just 47 degrees and game time is 5 p.m. The Saturday and Sunday games are scheduled for the afternoon. Saturday’s high is expected to be just 41 degrees, Sunday’s 59.
“We learned earlier in the season that there’s no such thing as cold weather,” Torina said, “only poor preparation.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.