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Third time's a charm: Softball bats make adjustments in comeback win

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Nikki Sagermann had the game-tying RBI and scored the game-winning run in UK's sixth inning rally. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Nikki Sagermann had the game-tying RBI and scored the game-winning run in UK's sixth inning rally. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
A staple of the 2014 Kentucky softball team has been its ability to keep fighting and battle back, and it was never more prevalent than in UK's 2-1, comeback win Saturday over James Madison on the second day of the NCAA Regional.

The Wildcats were trailing 1-0 and being no-hit through four innings, but in the fifth, everything started to change.

All it took was a leadoff flyout from senior Emily Gaines -- the first ball from the UK bats to leave the infield -- and the offense and the Big Blue Nation responded.

Senior Lauren Cumbess followed with a single for UK's first hit of the game, and fellow senior Emily Jolly also notched a double. While UK would not score a run in the frame, the rally was officially in effect.

Credit goes to sophomore Nikki Sagermann and junior Griffin Joiner, who recorded the game-tying and game-winning hits, but the crowd certainly played a factor.

John Cropp Stadium was close to capacity for the second consecutive day, but the Wildcat faithful didn't have a lot to cheer about until Gaines' flyout in the fifth inning. That's when the momentum shifted, and the Big Blue Nation could be heard, loud and clear.

"I thought a lot of our adjustment the third time through the order was due to the fact the crowd really got into it, chanting 'blue' and 'white,' " UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "You could hear them really cheering when Sylver Samuel got that hit up the middle and everybody went crazy. I actually think the crowd was a lot of the reason why we adjusted. The crowd was the big difference, I thought they were tremendous and a lot of the reasons why we scored the runs at the end of the game."

The Kentucky runs came in the sixth inning, but it unofficially got started in the fifth with Gaines' fly ball to center.

"Gaines has sparked us all year, so that got us going, everybody got fired up," Joiner said. "The rest of the lineup started battling better in their at-bat."

"We finally saw someone get some solid contact on her, and we were like, 'Alright, we can hit it,' " Sagermann added.

In the sixth inning, the Wildcats sent the top of the order to the plate for their third time. Sophomore Christian Stokes led off with a strikeout, but Samuel followed with a single up the middle to set up Sagermann.

The third baseman doubled to right center to score Samuel and tie the game. Joiner kept the hot hitting going with a single to left to score Sagermann and give Kentucky a 2-1 lead.

It was the adjustments that Samuel, Sagermann and Joiner made in their third time at the plate that proved to be the key for the UK offense to score two and take the lead.

After the second time through the batting order, Lawson knew the top of the order needed to adjust and get in attack mode if the Wildcats were to mount a rally.

"By the time the second at-bat comes around, if they're not in attack mode, you know you can be in big trouble," Lawson said. "You'd better straighten them out and get them in attack mode, so hopefully their third at-bat through, they're ready to get after the pitcher, which is what happened today."

The Wildcats have scored more than two runs just twice in their last six games, but have managed to notch five wins in that span, in large part to their ability to make adjustments at the plate and get the key hit at the perfect moment.

The fact that pitcher Kelsey Nunley, who has won all five games in the circle for Kentucky, is the school-record holder with eight postseason wins, certainly doesn't hurt either.

UK will look to advance to its third NCAA Super Regional in the past four years Sunday at 1 p.m. at John Cropp Stadium against either James Madison or DePaul.

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