Kentucky Baseball/Softball Media Day

Kentucky Baseball/Softball Media Day

2019 Kentucky Softball Media Day
Feb. 5, 2019
Kroger Field – Lexington, Kentucky
Head Coach Rachel Lawson
Opening statement …
“Well, I want to thank you guys for being here and everyone that is watching. We were just reminiscing the first time I did this, 11 years ago. Year one, we didn’t even have media day. Year two, they had Guy (Ramsey) in the back of the room and then year three we had another plant over here. We’ve come a long way.
The thing that has changed the most in the amount of time is my appreciation for you guys. Year one, it was “yay we get to be up here with baseball! This is awesome!” And then a few years after, this became something I needed to do as part of media day. And now that I’m older, I’ve come to understand that for us to take the next step, you guys are a big part of that. I want to thank you guys for being here. This means a lot to me.
We are really excited to open up in a couple days. We are going to Houston on Thursday and it’s a great tournament for us. We just figured out right now that 15 of our first 16 games are against teams that made the postseason in 2018. I didn’t realize that until right now, so good luck Autumn (Humes). I’m really excited about this schedule. The other thing that is going to be awesome for is week two, we head down to Tampa which is the ESPN St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational. This is a big deal for a couple of reasons. Number one, this is the only women’s sporting event that ESPN owns and they’re putting the games on their linear networks for the first time in the sport of softball.
Softball has continued to become a bigger and bigger deal on the national stage. Last year, there were over 1.5 million people that watched the Women’s College World Series, which was the highest-viewed out of baseball/softball since Opening Day. We’ve been a big part of this, as well. In 2016 – Kentucky was part of the most-watched regular season game in the country, and then in 2017, when we were in Super Regionals against Oregon – it was the most-watched game in the country over Memorial Day weekend. So, we’ve been a big part of the national rise of the sport of softball. I feel very good about where the sport of softball is and that has to do with the media and the support that ESPN has given us. I feel very grateful to be a part of this great university and we’ve been given all the resources and the staff and what we need to do to compete at the national level. So with that, I’ll take questions.”
On the 2019 schedule for younger players …
“Softball – as far as we’ve come on TV – there are still come things that we are really far behind on. One of them is scheduling. We create our own schedules, and a lot of times you just sign up for tournaments and then who goes, goes. I wasn’t really expecting this daunting of a task. And then for ESPN – for this to be the first women’s event they owned – they put it together late, and so we weren’t expecting as many quality opponents that are going to be there. I mean, we are going to be playing Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Utah, Hofstra and JMU. So, we weren’t expecting that. But, to answer your question, if we were going to do it – this was the year. We have an outstanding senior class. Our junior class is also very good, very seasoned, and while we have a big freshman class – they really add a lot to us. We have two very good pitchers in the freshman class, but more importantly we have a ton of speed. We’ve had more speed in recent years, but this year was a lot of left-handed hitting and speed. We have a lot of people that we can insert in there to make a difference. If we were going to have that type of a schedule, I think now is the time for it.”
On what the team must improve on for the 2019 season …
“When I came back from the holiday break, I was really pleased by some of the strides some of our freshman made over the break. We had a pretty strong fall. We played Tennessee, we played EKU, we played Louisville and so we played a strong schedule. So, we had them out there for those games and at times, they were pretty terrible. And so, I was wondering how they were going to take that. But I tell you, the resilience was awesome and then when they came back from winter break you saw that they worked so hard to master some of the skills that they weren’t getting right, so I feel really good about that. I feel great about where our offense is right now. I think we have an outstanding offense. From a pitching standpoint, I think we have really, really good pitching – but the thing that I think we are going to have to do a really good job of is commanding the zone. For a long time this fall, we really focused on getting swings and misses. We are starting to get them and the movement is outstanding and so I am seeing them get a lot of big outs. Our pitchers are going against our offense that I think is going to be one of the best in the country. We are going to have to command the zone, pound the zone and stay in these games. When you are playing so many opponents in such a short amount of time, the thing you have to worry about is we’re playing them on the same day. We are going to be playing World Series opponents back-to-back on the same day, so that really taxes your pitching staff. But when the NCAA committee looks at your resume, they don’t look at what your pitching situation is in the beginning, so they have to do a good job of going out there. You have to find the correct balance of how do I make sure the freshman pitchers are getting the experience in to make sure we have a strong chance to make it to the World Series, but at the same time, we need to make sure we don’t lose games so that we can host again. I think hosting was such a big deal for us last year. The fan base was tremendous. We ended up breaking all sorts of records and I think a lot of that was because of the advantage that the Big Blue Nation gave us. It’s really important for us to go out there and perform so that we have the opportunity to be a host again.”
On what needs to improve in the SEC …
“Well, the SEC is a really interesting league. Because Vandy does not have a softball team, it’s an unbalanced schedule – so you’re really at the mercy of the schedule that you get. You can in theory be No. 8 in the SEC and No. 12 in the country. Last year, we were given one of those heaver schedules where we did not play one team that was below us in the standings. We had the No. 1 strength of schedule in the country. I think a lot of that was because our SEC schedule was so powerful. With that said, obviously one of our goals is to be a lot stronger in the SEC and a lot of that has to do with can we continue with the dominant offensive performances we had. At some point, the collective ERA of the pitchers we had to face last year was well under a 2.0. It was crazy. If our offense can continue to do what they did and our pitching staff – which was so young last year – I mean we brought in Grace Baalman when she was a freshman last year and Autumn Humes was a transfer from Division II – now they are both experienced and they are both seasoned. If you combine them with the rest of our staff, I believe you will have a complete team that will be able to hit it hard from game one.”
On only being one game away from the WCWS last year
“Well, one of the cool things about Kentucky is that we have been knocking on that door for a really long time now. We’ve been to the Super Regionals five out of the last six years – so we’re there. With that said, in particular, this class, they had to come in and add support. They don’t have a pitcher in their class. It just worked out that way. So, they had to come in and do things on their own. Three of them have started since their freshman year. Two of our other seniors have done just an outstanding job since then. I think it’s not so much the message from me – but it’s the message from the program. I think the program expectation is to win and win at a really high level. And then, of course when you’re at the University of Kentucky and part of the Big Blue Nation, you’re looking to go to the Women’s College World Series, you’re looking for national champions. That’s what we’re striving to do. We also have such a tough schedule that to be the best, we have to play the best and we have to win. That’s the message that the alumni and the fan base put down, and I think that is what they have embraced. I mean, this is a great group of Wildcats and I am so proud of them for that.”
On if the other program’s success creates pressure to excel …
“Well one, I’m very proud of what we’ve done as a softball program. You’re never satisfied because every year, you want to do better, but very proud about where we’re at for a lot of reasons. One, I think we do a great job on the field, but more importantly, we do an awesome job in the community and our GPA remains incredibly high in majors that are very difficult. I’m very proud of that. I think one of the reasons that we maybe have gotten a little bit better than everyone a little bit sooner is that No. 1, we are very consistent. I have had the same coaching staff since I took over at Kentucky. I think consistency is key. I also fully believe in our athletic director and I always have. I believe in his mission and I think when you have great leadership at the top and you believe in it, and you embrace everything that he is giving you. I think that that really helps us. I think also that our strength & conditioning program is probably the best in the country and we fully embraced that day one. When you look at the size and the speed of our athletes, they are not only getting it done in the classroom but their commitment during season and offseason is tremendous. And now that we’ve added nutrition and the leadership piece we have fully embraced all of the things that the University of Kentucky has to offer and I think because of that, we won sooner than everyone else. With that said – it doesn’t create pressure because we all want the same thing. We all want a national championship. The other thing that I think is so cool about the University of Kentucky is that all of these athletes, they all go to study hall together, they go to training table together, they are in the training room together – so when you have a winning atmosphere, I think the way for all of us to win a national championship is that we all come together. So, I’m actually happy that some of the other programs that hadn’t seen that success early are now seeing that success and I’m looking forward to all of us going after a national championship.”
On how girls playing softball has changed over the years …
“I think that you guys (the media) are what has made the difference there. When I first got to Kentucky – you weren’t seeing very many players from the state of Kentucky or in the surrounding areas. They just went into what they know – which was basketball. The amount of coverage that you have given us through the media, and on TV, what is happening is that everyone is seeing these girls playing on TV and want that. We are getting a lot of athletes coming over into the sport of softball, but No. 2 they have real-life role models that are strong, doing the right things and so you’re starting to see an influx of better coaching and now the athletes are tremendous. If you were able to go out onto the softball field and you were to see a game live, you would be so impressed by the speed in which these players play with, and the power that they generate. Last year alone, we had three girls that were squatting over 300 pounds. You just would not have seen that a few years ago. I know Abbey Cheek is breaking records. I think another cool thing is that we are breaking records every year. So, we continue to get better and better and I look at the weight room and it used to be something that only the boys did, and the girls might have thought it was fun. Now it’s being taken seriously. You can see by the numbers at ESPN and the amount of people watching it and the sponsorship and the money that is being poured into softball. I think it’s a really good time and it’s really cool that the University of Kentucky is in the mix.”
On Katie Reed and Abbey Cheek being such good defenders to help out her pitching staff …
“It’s awesome. In the winter, they all went against Katie and Abbey – which was not very fun. Just yesterday, Katie opened up with a home run off of one of our freshman, so she had to get pretty serious pretty fast. I think they are relieved that we are leaving on Thursday and they can face other people. As far as our defense is concerned, Jenny Schaper is our catcher and she’s been back there for four years behind the dish and our left side is so strong that if they can get the ball on their hands, or even if they can just get the ball up, even if they aren’t able to generate the strikeout, that they feel a lot of confidence in Abbey and Katie. With that said, I have been impressed with the right side of our infield, as well. I think right now, you’re looking at Alex Martens playing at second and Mallory Peyton. They have done a great job. When Autumn is not on the mound, she can also be in the infield and so we have a very, very experienced and fast infield. And then, of course, Sarah Rainwater is back – which is nice to have her back in the mix after tearing her ACL. And believe it or not, Kelsee Henson had the best fall out of all the Wildcats, so to have such a strong class out there defensively will really calm them down a bit.”
On the 2019 pitching staff …
“I love our pitching staff because they are so diverse. Yesterday, Larissa Spellman threw a no-hitter in our scrimmage, and that was the first time I had ever seen that, so that was really cool. Autumn is just a tad bit crazy, so she’s just a tad bit crazy enough to be a good pitcher. But, she is really down to earth and a really good teammate. She has really good moving stuff, as she can move the ball down, up, she can change speed and gives us a good mix. You have Grace Baalman, but she is outstanding on the mound. Also can move the ball around. She has gotten a lot more power this fall. Last year she was consistently throwing in the low 60’s, now she is throwing consistently in the mid-to-upper 60’s which really is a testament to her amount of work that she has done. We also have our hardest-throwing freshman ever in Meghan Schorman. Yesterday, she was bringing it 65, 66 and up to 68. She has been working on mixing speeds and can mix the ball. We have this other crazy lefty, who’s name is Tatum Spangler. You know, she is the nicest human being in the world. And, I told her that Tatum, you just can’t be so nice, so she’s still nice, but she has figured out how to not be so nice on the softball field. She has gained four MPH on her stuff and it’s moving all over the place, but unfortunately – she’s not controlling it as well as she could, but with her work ethic, I assume in the next couple of weeks she will be really good.”
On if the offense has sustained from last year …
“I have seen it sustained. We totally changed our approach and I have to give a lot of credit to our coaching staff there with Kristine Himes and Molly Belcher. They did a really good job of going about it as we tried to simplify our offense and their approach in the box. We ended up working more on approach than mechanics and it made a big difference. We went from 172 in the country in offense – which is like horrible. How do you go to a Super Regionals with that kind of offense? That shows you how good our pitching was at that time. And then we moved to 32. It was a huge, huge jump. Obviously, the goal is to be top-10 in the country in scoring this year and a lot of that has to do with maturity of them as individuals. They are so smart and so coachable and I think they have done a great job with that. I think the key is No. 1, they have had a full year under their belt with their approach and then I believe that left-handed bats and speed will help us, and that’s what our freshman class has brought us. They are mostly left-handed and I feel confident that they get a little game experience – now their eyes are going to be (huge) when they see the schedule – but they’ll learn quickly. They’re very bright.”
On how she continually has great catchers …
“First, I recruit smart catchers. Number one, I look at, this sounds shocking – but they not only have to be talented, but they also have to have a high GPA. I look at the intangibles. I look at their parents. I see how they speak with their parents. They have to come in smart and mature and then because of that, all that you have to teach them when they come in is the skillset. If they already have the mentality, then they can do that. We put such a high premium on defense. Always. And that’s one of the reasons our offense wasn’t always as strong, early on when we didn’t have the fan base, and we didn’t have the fan base, we put such a premium on intelligence. Now we are getting smart players that are incredibly talented and from that standpoint, I think that catching is the cornerstone of our program. No matter what they do offensively, that player can handle behind the dish, and fortunately for us, all of our catchers have been good offensive players, so it really just starts with how smart they are.”

Related Stories

View all