LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky softball has never backed down from a challenge under head coach Rachel Lawson, and the 2019 season will be no different.
The inaugural ESPN St. Pete/Clearwater Invitational schedule was unveiled Monday afternoon, with the Wildcats facing two teams that advanced to the 2018 Women’s College World Series and three others that made the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re excited to be adding the Elite Invitational to our pre-conference schedule for 2019,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said, who will be entering her 12th year at Kentucky next year. “ESPN has helped elevate college softball to the next level, and this is another example of it. This will be a premier event in college softball that creates potential postseason match-ups in February to help prepare us for our SEC schedule and NCAA Tournament. The Elite Invitational will provide our team an opportunity to know what we need to do in order to make a deep run to the Women’s College World Series.”
The first day of the invitational tournament will be on Thursday, Feb. 14, when Kentucky will open the weekend by facing off against the three-time national champion Oklahoma Sooners at 4 p.m. ET.
On Friday, (Feb. 15) UK will square off against the Hofstra Pride at 9:30 a.m. ET before a matinee game vs. Utah at 3 p.m. ET.
Saturday, Feb. 16 will be a huge challenge for the Wildcats, facing off against Big XII power Texas, followed by a showdown against defending two-time PAC-12 champion and member of the 2018 WCWS, Oregon. The Ducks and the Wildcats are no strangers, as Oregon and UK have faced off in the NCAA Super Regionals the last two seasons. UK will play Texas at 10 a.m. ET and against Oregon at 4 p.m. ET.
Sunday, Feb. 17 will conclude the invitational for UK against James Madison University at 1 p.m. ET. The Dukes made the NCAA Super Regionals in 2017 and have consistently been a top-20 team as of late. JMU has won the Colonial Athletic Association championship each of the past five seasons.
The games that will be airing on the ESPN family of networks will be announced at a later date with channel assignments and commentating teams.
UK Opponents by the Numbers
Oklahoma – 2016 and 2017 NCAA National Champions … No. 4 in final NCAA RPI last season … WCWS semifinalists a season ago
Hofstra – 41-14 in 2018, earning the No. 18 ranking in the final NCAA RPI … Eliminated by No. 1 seeded Oregon in the Eugene Regional
Utah – Eliminated UK from the 2016 Lexington Regional, will be first meeting since … Finished 20-30 last year with an RPI of 60.
Texas – 33-26 in 2018 with a final RPI of 37 … Was eliminated in the 2018 Seattle Regional
Oregon – UK’s NCAA Super Regional opponent in 2017 and 2018 … Finished 2018 regular season No. 1 overall in the NCAA RPI … Participated in the WCWS, advancing to the semifinals.
James Madison – NCAA Super Regional hosts in 2017 (LSU) … Finished No. 24 in the final 2018 NCAA RPI … Winners of the Colonial Athletic Association the last five seasons.
About the ESPN St. Pete/Clearwater Invite
The event field includes 15 teams competing in the event advanced to NCAA Tournament play this year with Florida State, Oklahoma and Oregon advancing to the Women’s College World Series. The inaugural early-season tournament will feature California, Florida Atlantic University, Florida State University, Hofstra, James Madison, Kentucky, LSU, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
The invitational will take place February 14-17, at the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater, Fla. That is the second weekend of the season for Kentucky and most teams around the NCAA. The Eddie C. Moore Complex is Clearwater’s national and state award winning softball facility and has served as host to the Adidas Softball Invitational, USA Women’s National Softball Team and the Michele Smith Softball Camps.
Kentucky’s ESPN St. Petersburg/Clearwater Elite Invitational Schedule
Thursday, Feb. 14
Kentucky vs. Oklahoma (4 p.m. ET)
Friday, Feb. 15
Kentucky vs. Hofstra (9:30 a.m. ET)
Kentucky vs. Utah (3 p.m. ET)
Saturday, Feb. 16
Kentucky vs. Texas (10 a.m. ET)
Kentucky vs. Oregon (4 p.m. ET)
Sunday, Feb. 17
Kentucky vs. James Madison (1 p.m. ET)