Kentucky takes two from UCLA to reach first Women's College World Series
LOS ANGELES -- Kentucky sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley tossed an impressive 14 innings of work Sunday, while the Wildcat offense exploded with 14 runs in the doubleheader, leading 14th-seeded Kentucky to two wins against third-seeded UCLA and its first appearance in the Women's College World Series.
Kentucky (49-17) continues its best season in program history after defeating UCLA in Game 2 of the super regional 7-3 before a 7-1 victory in Game 3 sealed UK's berth in the WCWS.
The Women's College World Series is a double-elimination tournament that will begin Thursday. Kentucky will play sixth-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette in its first game of the event.
"This is a special day for us," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "We're going into a place that we've never been before, I feel really excited. It's a dream come true for all the girls on our team and our staff, we've worked incredibly hard. This particular senior class, this is our third super regional, so we've been close enough to taste it, but for it to actually be a reality is very special. For it to happen on such a storied softball field, where college softball was pretty much invented. It feels pretty good that we're advancing to Oklahoma City."
Nunley was the star for Kentucky on Sunday, tossing 14 innings, allowing four runs -- all earned -- on 11 hits with five strikeouts. She moves to 29-9 on the season, breaking her own school record for wins in a season. A native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., Nunley now has 202 strikeouts this season, becoming the second player in program history to post 200-plus strikeouts in a season. Nunley has thrown every pitch for Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, posting a 5-2 record and a 0.87 ERA in 48.1 innings pitched.
Offensively, sophomore infielder Nikki Sagermann led the way for Kentucky, going 4-for-6 combined with two RBI, while junior catcher Griffin Joiner was 3-for-6 with two RBI. Senior infielder Krystal Smith was 2-for-5 with two doubles and four RBI, while fellow seniors Lauren Cumbess and Ginny Carroll also collected two RBI. Senior outfielder Emily Jolly went 2-for-6 on the day with a run scored and a RBI.
"I've always thought we are a really tough team, and it's shown throughout our season that we don't give up, we're always fighting back," Cumbess said. "The three-game series in the SEC have really prepared us for this weekend and the postseason. Playing a three-game series and losing on a Friday night and bouncing back to win Saturday night and Sunday is a huge help to us. We've grown tougher during the regular season for the postseason."
Kentucky set the momentum for the day in the bottom of the first inning in Game 2, scoring five runs to take control and set the tone moving forward. The rally started with a leadoff walk to sophomore Christian Stokes, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by outfielder Sylver Samuel and came home to score on Sagermann's single up the middle. Joiner followed with a single and senior Emily Gaines reached on catcher's interference to load the bases for Cumbess, who singled down the left-field line to score two more UK runners. Smith followed with a double off the wall in left field to score two runners and put Kentucky up 5-1.
The Wildcats had two three-run rallies in the decisive game to seal the berth in the WCWS. After No. 2 UCLA (52-8) tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the third inning, UK scored three runs in the fourth to take back control of the game. Gaines started the inning with a single to right field, moving to second when Cumbess singled through the left side. Smith answered the bell again with a double down the left-field line, scoring a run and putting two runners in scoring position with one out. After a groundout, Carroll hit an infield single to the right side to score two runners and put Kentucky up 4-1.
UK added three insurance runs in the top of the seventh inning, getting a bases-loaded walk to Sagermann and a two-run single by Joiner to clinch the 7-1 victory.
The wins for Kentucky were its 13th and 14th this season against a ranked foe, setting a school record for wins against ranked opponents in a season. Under Lawson, Kentucky has 54 wins against ranked teams, including 15 against top-five teams.