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Shelby Hilton's FaceTime shoutout
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."
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.