On April 1, Nunley tied Chanda Bell atop the all-time wins list in Kentucky softball history. She made seven starts and appeared three more times looking for win No. 69, but it never came.
Wednesday it finally did.
"Kelsey and I haven't really talked about it, but I'm sure it's probably a big monkey off her back," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said.
Nunley didn't have the luxury of pitching like she had anything but her jersey on her back against Western Kentucky. With Miranda Kramer in the circle for the Hilltoppers, the slightest lapse in focus would have meant a loss in a 1-0 pitchers' duel that lasted nine innings.
"Wow, it was something else," Nunley said. "I just had to believe in my team and believe in myself that we were just going to come out with a win and just go out there and stay strong."
The way Kramer was dealing, it took a lot to keep the faith. The Western Kentucky University ace mowed through the UK lineup, piling up strikeouts and mounting a no-hit bid that lasted until Brooklyn Hinz's infield single in the eighth inning.
"I think that Kramer's an exceptional pitcher," Lawson said. "I think she's one of the best in the country. I'd be hard-pressed to find anyone better."
The No. 17 Cats (29-17), however, wouldn't stop swinging even as they struck out 18 times, the most in school history. In the ninth inning, they finally got Nunley her record-breaking win in walk-off fashion. Christian Stokes singled with one out and moved to second on Griffin Joiner's groundout. Maisie Steed then delivered an infield single and Stokes was able to score when Kramer's toss sailed over the head of her first baseman.
Twenty-four hours removed from a run-rule loss to Louisville that left Lawson evaluating her team's toughness, the performance was encouraging.
"We had a really embarrassing loss last night so Coach got us back together and just told us that we gotta go out and play tough and it's not going to get any easier from here on out," Nunley said. "So if we don't get ourselves together and start playing better we're not going to be able to do as good as we want to do."
The Cats responded immediately.
"We talked about taking each at-bat one at a time because we thought that we wouldn't be able to get on her until the third time through the order and they stuck with the game plan and they did it," Lawson said. "And I think anytime a team can stick with the game plan they set out to do at the beginning the game really says a lot about their toughness."
When it comes to toughness, it starts with UK's all-time winningest pitcher, who threw nine scoreless innings and allowed just six hits and struck out nine.
"I don't think you're going to find anybody tougher than Kelsey," Lawson said, "I don't think you're going to find anybody who can command the zone better than she does and I don't think you're going find anybody in the country who's more battle-tested than she is. She's been doing this for us for the last three years."
Kyle Cody pitched four scoreless innings to earn the win Tuesday vs. Xavier (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Coming into Tuesday's game vs. Xavier, Kyle Cody's confidence was shaken.
The junior righthander was 2-4 and had a 6.37 ERA in nine appearances to start the season. He had been pulled from his normal Sunday spot in the rotation and had the last nine days off.
In those nine days, something changed. Cody came out and allowed just two baserunners in four scoreless innings to propel UK to a 6-1 win on Tuesday.
He struck out three and earned his first win since March 8. Xavier brought more than three batters to the plate just once, when four batted in the fourth.
It was just the outing that Cody needed.
"It was a big confidence booster for me," Cody said. "To go out there and put up some zeros, I haven't been able to do that the past month or so, but I'm trying to get back on the right track. Tonight was a start to that."
Preparing for Tuesday's start, Cody needed to fine tune some things and get back to the basics. He hadn't lost anything, he just needed to find that edge again. While Cody's confidence the past few weeks had taken a hit, he still knew he had what it took to win.
Heading into Tuesday's start, his coach did too.
"Kyle's done that before," UK head coach Gary Henderson said after Tuesday's win. "He just had a little bit of a hiccup for a couple of outings, but he'll be right back doing what he needs to do."
It helped Cody to know that not only did Henderson know what he could do, but his teammates did as well.
As he prepared for Tuesday's start, and Cody and Henderson talked, he got that boost from his coach.
"He told me to do what I'm capable of," Cody said. "He knows what I'm capable of. I feel like everyone knows. Everyone is behind me. Just trying to get back on the right track and tonight was a good start to that."
Today was definitely a good start.
With his teammates and coach behind him, Cody was able to focus on his approach to Tuesday's start. Henderson wanted him to find a rhythm, throw at the bottom of the strike zone and to keep it simple.
Cody got into trouble early when Xavier's leadoff hitter singled to open the game, but he quickly induced a 4-6-3 double play to stop any scoring opportunity. A groundout ended the inning
He followed with a 1-2-3 inning in the second, with one strikeout and a nifty defensive play from right fielder Storm Wilson to cut down Xavier's Derek Hasenbeck at first.
In the third, Cody again retired the side, with a pair of pop-outs and a groundout.
Nine up, nine down through the first three innings. In the fourth, which was decided before the game to be Cody's last, he walked the leadoff hitter. Two strikeouts and a fly out later though, Cody escaped unscathed and primed for his third win of the season.
Tuesday was all about getting that rhythm back and keeping it simple.
"Get the ball down, first of all," Cody said of the adjustments he made. "Obviously the numbers were not what I'm capable of, I just have to go out there and prove it to my teammates that I can get outings like this. "It's all mindset issues, confidence issues. Having an outing like this is big for me to get my confidence up. Just moving on to my next outing, I'll be even better."
"He did a nice job of throwing strikes," Henderson added. "The fact that he found his rhythm after the first six pitches of the fourth inning, when it could have gone the other way and it didn't, he found it and he got back to the strike zone and got the two punch-outs. I'm really pleased with that effort."
Cody will be the first one to tell you Tuesday was just a step in the right direction and he has a lot of work to do still.
However, four innings with three strikeouts, no runs, one hit and one walk is definitely the game that Cody wanted.
Up next for the junior righty?
"Just pitch when my name is called," Cody said. "That's where I go."
Keep on pitching like he did on Tuesday night and his name will be called sooner rather than later.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis), GS 1-0
After falling behind 25 points late in the third quarter, Davis spurred a Pelicans comeback effort that ultimately came up seven points shy in his NBA Playoff debut. The former No. 1 overall selection tallied 35 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks in the 106-99 Warriors victory. Game 2 will take place Monday night at 10:30 p.m. ET in Oakland, Calif. on TNT.
(2) Houston Rockets (Terrence Jones) vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks (Rajon Rondo), HOU 1-0
Jones, who has reached the playoffs in each of his first three seasons in the NBA, emerged big in a Game 1 starting effort for the victorious Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward notched 19 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in the 118-108 Houston win. Rondo logged 15 points and five assists for Dallas. Game 2 is scheduled in Houston for Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on TNT.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics (James Young), CLE 1-0
Young, a 19-year-old rookie, failed to see the floor in Boston's 113-100 Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers. The Celtics will get a second shot at Cleveland Tuesday at 7 p.m. on TNT.
(3) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks, CHI 1-0
Mohammed, a 37-year-old veteran playing in his 17th NBA season, also spent Game 1 of his team's best-of-seven series on the bench. The Bulls defeated the Bucks 103-91, and will play Game 2 Monday at 8:00 p.m. on TNT.
(4) Toronto Raptors (Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson) vs. (5) Washington Wizards (John Wall), WSH 1-0
In a postseason series featuring former 2009-10 teammates and First Team All-SEC performers Wall and Patterson, the road team edged out the home favorites 93-86 in Canada. Despite nightmarish 5-for-18 field goal shooting, Wall scored 10 points, with eight assists and six rebounds. Patterson matched Wall's 10 points in addition to five rebounds, while Hayes logged no minutes on the court. Game 2 will commence Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. in Toronto on NBA TV.
He did on Saturday.
"Obviously he was impactful today," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Clearly."
With Tom anchoring the lineup in the No. 3 spot, Kentucky baseball completed a sweep of rival Tennessee for the first time in Cliff Hagan Stadium history. The Cats won 5-3, due in large part to Tom's big afternoon. The junior right fielder had three hits in four at-bats, driving in three runs.
"It does help us get back on track in the conference," Tom said. "We lost a lot of close games and it's good to finally pull one off."
Tom got the scoring started for UK (22-16, 8-9 Southeastern Conference) in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, he followed up an Evan White double with one of his own to stake the Cats to a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Tom was in the middle of a rally to retake the lead in the third inning, but he would save his biggest blow for later.
The game seemed destined for a tight finish before Tom stepped to the plate in the fifth inning with Kyle Barrett standing on third base. Needing a fly ball to send Barrett home with one out, Tom came up with just that. His fly ball, however, landed well into the parking lot past the right-field fence for his third homerun of the season.
"That was probably most clean I've ever caught the ball," Tom said.
For the season, Tom is batting a team-best .377 with 42 runs batted in, though he fell short of his second cycle of the season when he flew out to center in the seventh inning. The Kaneohe, Hawaii, native has had an uneven run through conference play, hitting just .257 entering Saturday's season finale against the Volunteers. That makes his performance all the more encouraging as UK enters the final month of the regular season.
"He's a real presence in the box," Henderson said. "He's a threat. He's an all-league kid and everybody's aware that he's a really accomplished hitter. He's a guy that if he doesn't do well his first at-bat you can count on him to give you a solid at-bat in the box, a solid approach throughout the game."
JaVon Shelby would follow Tom's two-run shot with another long ball for UK's first back-to-back homers since 2012 and the Cats wouldn't look back. Wildcat pitchers turned in another solid outing, with Andrew Nelson, Zach Logue, Zach Strecker, Logan Salow and Spencer Jack combining to allow just three runs on nine hits.
The Vols' biggest threats came in the final two innings. Tennessee loaded the bases with one out against Logue and Strecker in the eighth, but Salow entered and retired Chris Hall and Christin Stewart in order to preserve the final margin. In the ninth, Salow allowed runners to reach second and third. Jack entered and allowed both Vols to score, but got the save nonetheless.
Over the course of the three-game sweep, UK yielded just four runs.
"I think we're way advanced in terms of clarity and plan from where we were six, seven weeks ago," Henderson said. "Much more confident. Obviously the body language was pretty good all weekend on the mound. Our presence was good. We did a nice job pounding the zone early in the count."
Thanks to the stellar pitching and Tom's big Saturday, the Cats climbed to within a game of .500 in SEC play. The season they were all hoping for is still within reach, especially since UK faces the three teams it trails in SEC East standings over the next four weeks.
"We're fortunate in who we've got left because we've got the people in front of us," Henderson said. "So you get those people and then you can make up some room. It won't be easy. I'm not pretending like it's easy. But we're pretty fortunate with who we've got in front of us and if we continue to get that type of starting pitching we'll be in the ballgames."
Even more importantly than that, the Cats are trending the right way in the way they are playing the game.
"We're really taking some really positive steps forward where we have some real presence and some real body language that we didn't have six, eight weeks ago," Henderson said. "... I think it's been really, really a positive thing."
After shutting out the Tennessee Volunteers 5-0 in the first of a three-game series Thursday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium, the Kentucky Wildcats hoped to lean once again on a dominant defensive performance when the two teams squared off on Friday.
Anchored by junior right-handed pitcher Dustin Beggs, UK did just that.
"(Beggs) is awesome to play behind, and throws a lot of strikes," freshman first baseman Evan White said. "He gets a lot of ground balls. He's definitely fun because he works fast."
In throwing 109 pitches through eight innings, Beggs struck out eight UT batters and walked only two. The Roswell, Ga., native allowed just five hits, and Kentucky won the game 3-1.
"I was able to get it over (the plate) for strikes, which is helpful," said Beggs. "(Junior catcher Zach Arnold) did a good job back there catching it, framing it, and putting it in a good spot."
Kentucky held Tennessee scoreless for most of the contest, but gave up a lone run in the game's final inning. Freshman lefty Zach Logue relieved Beggs in the ninth, and went on to retire the final two Volunteer batters.
"I was a little disappointed at the end," Beggs (5-2) said. "I wanted to get it done and finish the game. I haven't had a complete game since I've been here. But, I'm glad Logue got to come in. He did a really great job shutting the door on them."
However, head coach Gary Henderson was anything but dissatisfied with Beggs' performance.
"Dustin Beggs keeps getting better and better," said Henderson. "We're really pleased about that."
Henderson went on to praise his pitcher for practicing a sentiment the head coach continuously preaches.
"We talk about (first-pitch strikes) pretty frequently here," Henderson said. "Dustin did a really good job of that tonight. If you can do that, it doesn't guarantee an in or an out, but it certainly puts you in a little bit better position."
Beggs echoed his team's emphasis on first-pitch strikes, and revealed just how much his coach's message resonates with him when he's on the mound.
"First-pitch strikes are a huge thing (Coach Henderson) preaches to all of our guys," said Beggs. "Just make sure you get ahead in the count ... So, I was really trying to get ahead."
Kentucky (21-16, 7-9 SEC) will look to complete the series sweep of rival Tennessee (15-19, 5-12 SEC) Saturday at noon on SEC Network. Senior right-handed pitcher Andrew Nelson will make his second start for the Wildcats this season.
Mark Stoops was a happy coach on Wednesday.
The Kentucky football team closed out the spring with another solid practice, ending a stretch that Stoops called the "most consistent" of any time during his two-plus seasons in Lexington.
"We weren't perfect for all 15 (practices), but the guys were really out there trying to make a conscious effort to improve on the things we point out in the meetings," Stoops said. "We had great energy. Guys were really flying around this morning, having fun, competing, getting better the whole way through. Really pleased with the progress we've made."
Stoops is high on the improving depth of his roster, as well as the young talent he and his staff have brought in. That depth and talent has led Stoops to feel much different about his program than this time two years ago wrapping up spring practice, but there's another important factor in his optimism.
"I think it's hard to put into words exactly," Stoops said. "I just think it starts mentally. They understand what we want from them. They enjoy practice all the way through. Like I said, the 15th day -- all the way through they were enjoying themselves, concentrating on getting better. I think mentally we're much stronger. Definitely feel like we're developing them to be a winning football team."
A winning football team, of course, will reflect the culture Stoops has sought to build since he arrived on campus. That's a work in progress, but Stoops once again likes the Wildcats' direction.
"I feel very good about this team," Stoops said. "Again, we know where we're deficient and where we need to improve, but I like the attitude and I feel like we have good young talent that's still developing that's going to get better with every opportunity."
Stoops mentioned quarterbacks Patrick Towles and Drew Barker as two of the players who have improved the most over the spring, with wide receivers Garrett Johnson and Blake Bone joining them on the offensive side. On defense, linebackers Josh Forrest and Ryan Flannigan have made strides, as has defensive tackle Melvin Lewis.
"He is a good nose guard," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He's a guy that I am very proud of and feel very confident about at his position, and he's completely earned that. Nothing was given to him, and he didn't walk in here a good player. He's a guy that, like I said, he may be the most improved player on our team from when he came in to where he's at now."
With the growth of players like Forrest, Flannigan and Lewis, Stoops and Eliot are feeling good about UK's defense up the middle. A key to building on UK's three-win improvement from 2013 to 2014 will be development at the cornerback spot.
"For that position, you have to be extremely skilled, but you have to be confident, too, because you're gonna get beat because it's so hard to play that position," Eliot said. "It's so hard to play that position. And you have to have the confidence to come back and be aggressive and execute your techniques the next play. I think that that's something that we've got to continue to build on are those things at corner."
That's one of many things Kentucky will need to do moving into the summer and eventually fall camp. This spring positions the Cats well.
"We need to keep that momentum, keep that consistency going here with the last two-and-a-half, three weeks of school and have a great summer -- physically and mentally getting tougher, getting stronger, getting bigger," Stoops said. "And if we do that, then we'll be excited heading into fall."