LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For the 10th-ranked Kentucky softball team, its 7-3, extra-inning win over its in-state rival Louisville was all about bouncing back and continuing to make history.
The Wildcats had a tough 1-2 series last weekend at home against Tennessee, but bounced back Wednesday and won their program-record-tying 41st game of the season.
Kentucky lost a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, but recovered with four runs in the eighth to claim its first win at Louisville since 2006.
UK stranded 10 runners on base, but bounced back in the next half inning to force the Cardinals to strand nine on the base paths to give UK its first series sweep of U of L since 2003.
Needless to say, with one weekend left in the regular season, it was a big win for Kentucky in an always emotional, hard-fought contest.
The fact that it took extra innings made the bounce back win even sweeter.
It all started in the bottom of the seventh inning, with UK clinging to a 3-1 lead. Sophomore ace Kelsey Nunley was on the mound for her fifth inning of work after she allowed no runs on just three hits after entering the game in the third inning.
Nunley allowed two home runs in the seventh to tie the score and force extra innings. What could quickly turn into a deflating loss was never an option in UK's first-base dugout thanks to Krystal Smith's leadoff single to left field in the top of the eighth.
"After Krystal got that leadoff single, we all were like 'all right, let's get things rolling, we have to score her," sophomore Nikki Sagermann said. "I had confidence in our offense, I knew we were going to go out and get the lead back. We really wanted to win this game, it was important to us."
Smith's single got the inning going, and the Wildcats never looked back. Senior Emily Jolly bunted Smith to second, followed by sophomore Maisie Steed's infield single and junior Griffin Joiner's bloop single to center.
Sophomore Sylver Samuel stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and sent a slapper to third base. The third baseman fired home, but Smith was able to slide in safely.
"All I was thinking was that I have to take off full speed , be fast and slide hard," Smith said. "That's what I tried to do. Once the catcher started to tumble down, I know I had it. I saw the ball over on the ground and thought 'alright, let's keep it going."
Sagermann did just that, with a screaming double down the right field line that platted two more and extend UK's lead to 6-3. The first hard hit ball of the entire inning gave the Wildcats some valuable insurance runs.
"It was really big," head coach Rachel Lawson said of her team's ability to bounce back in the eighth. "Krystal Smith was the one who got it started. She really had a great plan in the box, she made an adjustment, and when she did that, the team fed off of the momentum. The fact that she was able to fight, she sat on the pitch she wanted and did everything the right way. The team really learned from her and took it into their next at-bats."
Adjustments were the key in the eighth inning. After a deflating seventh inning, the Wildcat batters made the necessary adjustments to score runs.
Outside of a three-run second inning, the U of L pitching staff allowed just six hits before the four-run, four-hit eighth.
"To be able to give up two home runs, that can definitely take the wind out of your sails," Lawson said. "Luckily we had a lot of great performances in the box in the last inning. We made some good adjustments, adjustments that we hadn't made in the previous six innings. It feels good, because that's something we've been working on for the past couple weeks, being able to make good adjustments in the box. To get such key contributions from the bottom of the order, so they can turn it around for the top, is a big deal for us."
"It's really big," Lawson said about being able to answer back with three runs in the second after the Cardinals scored one in the first. "Louisville is a very well-coached team, they were definitely prepared when they came in. They hadn't seen Meagan Prince at all, so the fact they were prepared says a lot about their program. To be able to get out of it giving up one, I felt pretty lucky."
The adjustments were the key to secure the record-tying win. With history on the line, there wasn't any other option for the Wildcats other than to buckle down and get the win.
Going into the game, the team knew they had an opportunity to win at Louisville and sweep the season series for the first time in Lawson's seven year tenure at UK.
Especially for the seniors, like Smith, they wanted nothing more than to get that win for their head coach.
"Coach Lawson hadn't beaten them here in her tenure, so going into the game, this was big for us seniors, we wanted to end on a high note, especially at Louisville. This program has built into a program that has done things we've never done before, so going into that big inning, we knew we had to attack, stay in the game and we have to win the game."
UK will look to keep it going on the road this weekend at Georgia in its final SEC series of the season before the conference tournament commences on May 7.
Thanks to a bounce-back, history-making win Wednesday night in Louisville, the Wildcats will have momentum on their side. If they continue to make adjustments and bounce back from a tough inning, there's no doubt the momentum will continue to side with Lawson's team.