LEXINGTON, Ky. - The key to success in softball is a dominating pitching staff. Since the arrival of junior captain Rachel Riley and classmate Chanda Bell, the UK softball team has become one of just seven teams in the Southeastern Conference to appear in consecutive NCAA Tournaments and record over 30 victories in back-to-back years.
"I feel very comfortable with our pitching staff," UK coach Rachel Lawson said. "In addition to individual talents, I could not ask for a harder working group of athletes to lead our team in the circle. Without question, each of our pitchers has her own strengths, but collectively the staff has poise, power, a winning mindset and array of pitches that we can attack an opponent with. We could call upon any pitcher on our staff and she will put our team in a position to win."
Riley has not dominated the SEC with power, but rather she controls the batter and owns a sharp mind for the game. In just two seasons, Riley has earned the victory in the circle for the Blue and White against six top-10 ranked opponents. She boasts the third best ERA in a single-season (2.35) in 2009, while also ranking among UK's all-time bests in nearly every pitching category just two seasons into her career.
"I think all of the pitchers have worked extremely hard," Riley said. "The freshmen had a lot to pick up when they came in during the fall, but I think they've really gotten a lot better and will be able to step in and win games for us. Chanda and I have experience in that we know what to expect from Coach calling pitches, and we know that the key is to take each team and each game one at a time."
The Bowling Green, Ky., native also contributes offensively as she has recorded a pair of home runs and 16 RBI. As a freshman, she hit the game-winning home run and won on the mound against Eastern Kentucky. Additionally, she earned the first-ever post-season win with an upset of seventh-ranked Georgia as a freshman in the SEC Tournament.
Bell has combined with Riley to form one of the best pitching tandems in the country. The duo has already combined for more pitching victories in a career than any other pitching combination in school history.
Bell is a right-hander who relies on blazing power for strikeouts. The Indianapolis native has recorded 504 strikeouts in two seasons and sits just 46 fanned batters from the career record at UK. Her 288 strikeouts as a sophomore topped her own single-season record set a year earlier. Additionally, she ranks second all-time in UK allure with 37 victories and a 2.56 career ERA. She is already tops in the career records with a .205 opponent batting average.
With arguably the two best pitchers in school history already on staff, Lawson added to her faction with two of the top pitching prospects in the nation in freshmen Lauren Cumbess and Ellen Weaver to form an undeniable talent-laden pitching staff to help guide UK to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Cumbess, much like Riley, can contribute both in the circle and at the dish. As a junior in high school, she posted a .378 batting average while also recording a 0.34 ERA. She struck out 214 in just 20 appearances. On the summer circuit, she tossed 64 innings while owning a 0.14 ERA and a batting average of .387.
Weaver was named one of the top-100 recruits in the country by the Adidas Futures as a multi-talented pitcher and power-hitter. A continual winner, Weaver led her team to the River Ridge Championship while being voted first team All-District. She was a Virginia High School League Region IV team member and was tabbed the VHSL Region IV Pitcher of the Year.
With an array of talent, Lawson will look to her pitching staff to be the cornerstone of success for 2011.