The LSU softball team has faced a ranked opponent in 12 of its past 16 games, the most obvious reason the Tigers have taken a step back after starting 10-1 in Southeastern Conference play.
The run of top-25 foes ends this weekend, but it’s not as if No. 22 LSU will have a chance to catch its breath.
When the Tigers (34-18, 15-10) face Kentucky (26-27, 12-13) in a three-game set at the UK Softball Complex, they will run into a desperate team fighting to stay in the postseason hunt and eager to give six seniors a proper sendoff in their final home series.
“They’re going to be coming at us with everything they have,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “I think they feel the pressure to get these wins and put themselves in a good spot.”
Action gets under way at 5. p.m. Friday followed by noon starts on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday, Kentucky will wear pink jerseys for its annual “Strikeout Cancer” game and award price cuts for fans who wear pink to the ballpark. On Sunday, star pitcher Chanda Bell and her senior teammates will be honored as they bid farewell.
Kentucky has taken two of three against SEC East powerhouses Florida and Georgia in recent weeks, but the Wildcats must finish the regular season with a .500 mark overall to be eligible for a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The reason for UK’s precarious spot is its inconsistencies.
Two weeks ago, the Wildcats lost three one-run games to struggling Mississippi State. The next week, they became the first SEC team this season to take a series from Florida.
Kentucky has already qualified for the conference tournament next week, but its regional status is in peril one year after the Wildcats made the super regionals for the first time and came within a win of making the Women’s College World Series.
Bell allowed Florida only one run in two outings last week, continuing one of the most storied careers in school history. Junior infielder Kara Dill is batting .374 with five triples and leads the SEC with 67 hits.
“Kentucky is about as high and low as you can get throughout this season,” Torina said. “They can be absolutely the best team in the conference on days when they want to be.”
LSU finishes the Murderer’s Row end of its schedule tied with Georgia for fourth place in the SEC standings.
The Tigers still have a shot at hosting a regional later this month, but they need to get better production from an offense that ranks last in the SEC with a .231 batting average and has scored just 67 runs during SEC play.