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UK Softball Coach Lawson & Players Grab SEC Honors; No. 11 Cats Will Play In SEC Tournament Thur

Rachel Lawson Crowned SEC Coach of the Year

LEXINGTON, Ky. – For the first time in her distinguished career, Kentucky softball head coach Rachel Lawson was crowned the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year Tuesday, May 10, after guiding the Wildcats to a 43-11 regular season record, the best in program history.

Lawson led 11th-ranked Kentucky to not only a program-best 43-11 regular season record, but a 17-7 SEC record, good enough for outright second place in the toughest softball conference in the nation, which was the highest finish in program history.

Now in her ninth season at the helm in Lexington, Lawson (pictured, right) has taken the Kentucky softball program to new heights every year she has been in charge – including this season, where she became the first coach in program history to eclipse 300 wins as the head coach at Kentucky. In addition to winning her 300th game at Kentucky earlier this season, she also surpassed 100 career SEC wins and 400 career wins all this season.

The winningest head coach in program history has not only lead UK to its first-ever appearance in the Women's College World Series, four NCAA Super Regionals the last five seasons, including a program-best 50 wins in 2014, but UK's administration come through on their promise and commitment to softball by providing Lawson with one of the nation's greatest collegiate softball facilities in the $9.5 million John Cropp Stadium.

Two of the last three seasons, Lawson had led the Wildcats to a national seed in the NCAA Tournament - the school's first-ever national seed was in 2013 - and hosted a NCAA Regional. Kentucky, which has made the NCAA Tournament each of the last seven seasons - one of just 21 schools nationally to claim that honor - is one of just nine schools to be a national seed two of the last three seasons.

Now sitting at 409-294 in her career, Lawson is the winningest head coach in school history and already has more wins in SEC play than UK had all told as a program when she took over in 2007. UK finished the 2014 season ranked sixth in both national listings for its best final ranking ever. In 2013, Kentucky was ranked in the top 14 of both collegiate softball rankings for the second time in school history with nine wins over ranked teams. In her nine seasons at Kentucky, Lawson has defeated over 70 ranked foes, including 35 wins vs. top-10 teams and 18 against top-five teams.

Kentucky will open SEC Tournament play on Thursday afternoon in Starkville, Miss., at 2:30 p.m. ET live on the SEC Network. The second-seeded Wildcats will play either the seventh-seeded LSU Tigers, or 10th-seeded Texas A&M Aggies – who play on Wednesday afternoon in the opening round of the tournament hosted by Mississippi State this week.

Kelsey Nunley Earns SEC Pitcher of the Year

The best player in Kentucky softball history’s career just got harder to top, as senior pitcher Kelsey Nunley was named the Southeastern Conference’s 2016 Pitcher of the Year on Tuesday morning, as she becomes the first Kentucky softball in program history to earn that honor.

Nunley (pictured, left) just capped off the best regular season pitching performance in program history on Sunday with her seventh complete-game shutout of the year as she helped Kentucky clinch second place outright in the SEC for the first time in program history. Nunley set a new regular-season ERA record, posting a 1.26 ERA in her 31 appearances, which was more than five tenths of a run better than anyone had ever recorded in one season in UK history.

The Soddy Daisy, Tenn., native went 20-5 this season in the circle with 21 games started and 12 complete games. She is currently the NCAA’s active innings-pitched leader with over 900 in her career, and this year threw 161.1 innings allowing just 29 earned runs in those innings and struck out an SEC-leading 185 batters.

Nunley was named the SEC Pitcher of the Week two times in back-to-back weeks this season – the only player in the league to win the Pitcher of the Week award in two consecutive weeks after her complete-game shutout on the road at No. 8 LSU to pick up the win over the Tigers, and then another shutout then next week in conference action.

She is a finalist for many national awards, including two of the most prestigious awards in the country – the Senior CLASS Award, and the ASA/USA Softball National Player of the Year. Nunley is the first-ever Kentucky player to be a finalist for the National Player of the Year Award.

Nunley, Cheek, Steed and Stokes Garner All-SEC Postseason Honors

Four Kentucky softball players were named to the All-Southeastern Conference postseason teams, it was announced on Tuesday afternoon by the league office. Senior pitcher Kelsey Nunley was named first-team All-SEC in addition to being named the SEC Pitcher of the year, Abbey Cheek was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team, and seniors Maisie Steed and Christian Stokes were named to the SEC All-Defensive Team.

Those four awards combined with head coach Rachel Lawson being named the SEC’s Coach of the Year gives Kentucky five postseason conference awards – a new program record, surpassing the four gained by the 2011 team that got Kentucky to its first-ever NCAA Super Regional that season.

Nunley becomes the seventh player to be named first team All-SEC in Kentucky history, and the first since Brittany Cervantes in 2012. That duo joins Megan Yocke, Molly Johnson (Belcher), Nikki Jones, Lyndsey Angus and Leslie Kwiatikowski as the only first team All-SEC members in UK history.

Freshman Abbey Cheek was named to the All-SEC Freshman team after hitting .331 on the season with a freshman record 49 runs batted in. Cheek leads UK in a number of offensive categories including RBI, home runs (9), total bases (90), sits second in doubles (8) hits (51) and at-bats (154). Cheek becomes the 12th all-time player at Kentucky to be named to the SEC All-Freshman Team, and first since Kelsey Nunley did it back in 2013.

Both Maisie Steed and Christian Stokes were named to the All-SEC Defensive Team on Tuesday for the first time in their careers in the Blue and White. Steed was selected as the All-SEC Defensive first basemen, with Stokes being chosen as the All-SEC Defensive selection for the shortstop position.

Stokes, who was drafted 26th overall in the fourth round of the 2016 National Pro Fastpitch Draft last month by the ScrapYard Dawgs, had a fielding percentage above .900 for the fourth year in a row, recording 99 assists on the season, and now has over 400 for her career, which currently ranks third on Kentucky’s all-time defensive assists list.

Steed, who like Nunley and Stokes is in her senior season, had a banner defensive season at first base, recording a .992 defensive fielding percentage as she only had three errors charged to her all season in 355 opportunities. The Georgian led off in the UK order a majority of the season, hitting .258 in the lead-off spot for UK, drawing 27 walks and driving in 15 runs on the year.

All-SEC Awards

First Team All-SEC

P – Delanie Gourley, Florida

P – Aleshia Ocasio, Florida

P – Kelsey Nunley, Kentucky

IF – Kasey Cooper, Auburn

IF – Alyssa DiCarlo, Georgia

IF – Bianka Bell, LSU

IF – Meghan Gregg, Tennessee

IF – Tori Vidales, Texas A&M

OF – Haylie McCleney, Alabama

OF – Amanda Lorenz, Florida

OF – Sydni Emanuel, Georgia

OF – Emily Crane, Missouri

C – Ashley Walters, Texas A&M

DP/U – Kayli Kvistad, Florida

Second Team All-SEC

P – Sydney Littlejohn, Alabama

P – Chelsea Wilkinson, Georgia

P – Carley Hoover, LSU

IF – Leona Lafaele, Alabama

IF – Jade Rhodes, Auburn

IF – Alex Hugo, Georgia

IF – Tina Iosefa, Georgia

IF – Sami Fagan, Missouri

OF – Kirsti Merritt, Florida

OF – Cortni Emanuel, Georgia

OF – Taylor Gadbois, Missouri

OF – Keeli Milligan, Texas A&M

C – Aubree Munro, Florida

DP/U – Rainey Gaffin, Tennessee

Freshman All-SEC

P – Kelly Barnhill, Florida

P – Matty Moss, Tennessee

P – Samantha Show, Texas A&M

IF – Alyssa DiCarlo, Georgia

IF – Lacey Sumerlin, Georgia

IF – Hailey Lunderman, Ole Miss

IF – Aubrey Leach, Tennessee

IF – Kaitlyn Alderink, Texas A&M

OF – Amanda Lorenz, Florida

OF – Regan Nash, Missouri

OF – Brooke Vines, Tennessee

OF – Keeli Milligan, Texas A&M

C – Reagan Dykes, Alabama

DP/U – Abbey Cheek, Kentucky

SEC All-Defensive

P – Rainey Gaffin, Tennessee

C – Aubree Munro, Florida

1B – Leona Lafaele, Alabama

1B – Jade Rhodes, Auburn

1B – Maisie Steed, Kentucky

1B – Tori Vidales, Texas A&M

2B – Emily Carosone, Auburn

SS – Christian Stokes, Kentucky

3B – Kasey Cooper, Auburn

LF – Kallie Case, Alabama

CF – Haylie McCleney, Alabama

RF – Emily Crane, Missouri

Player of the Year: Kasey Cooper, Auburn

Pitcher of the Year: Kelsey Nunley, Kentucky

Freshman of the Year: Amanda Lorenz, Florida

Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Kasey Cooper, Auburn

Coach of the Year: Rachel Lawson, Kentucky

Photos by UK Athletics

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