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Video: CATSPYs senior tribute

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Dustin Beggs struck out 12 batters in 8.1 innings as UK defeated No. 6 Vanderbilt, 11-5 on Saturday (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Dustin Beggs struck out 12 batters in 8.1 innings as UK defeated No. 6 Vanderbilt, 11-5 on Saturday (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Saturday, Kentucky faced a team that scored 13 runs the night before and had tallied nine or more runs 17 times. The opponent was the defending national champions and sixth-ranked Vanderbilt. 

For UK's junior righthander Dustin Beggs though, who recorded his four consecutive win, it was business as usual.

Beggs went 8.1 innings and allowed just three runs. It was all the Wildcats needed as the offense exploded for 11 runs in an 11-5 win to even the three-game series at 1-1.

"I felt really good," Beggs said after the game. "[Head coach Gary] Henderson and I have been working in the bullpen, getting everything going in the right spot. Mesh everything together, get fastballs and curveballs working together. I think it's been working out well."

Saturday was Beggs' fourth win in as many starts, going at least eight innings in each appearance. He earned his team-high eighth quality start of the season as UK improved to 8-4 on the year with Beggs on the mound.

Last week's win came at No. 5 Florida with a career-high 8.1 innings pitched. The 8.1 frames Saturday vs. the sixth-ranked Commodores matched that.

With a career-best 12 strikeouts Saturday and having reached the ninth inning in back-to-back weeks, Beggs has continued to get better week after week.

"We certainly have high standards for him, but he's gotten better as the season has progressed," Henderson said. "He's gotten more stamina, he has the ability to concentrate longer. His concentration now, compared to where it was in February is in a noticeably different spot."

Beggs has recorded six or more strikeouts in four consecutive games and in six starts total in 2015. Saturday's 12 was the first time in his career that he sat down more than eight opposing batters.

The curveball was Beggs' go-to pitch on Saturday. 

"I was able to switch sides well, and my curveball was working really well. I was getting a lot of swing-and-misses on that, before there were two strikes, so it worked well."

Following a 13-run outburst from Vanderbilt in Friday's series-opener, including back-to-back five run innings, Henderson was especially impressed with how Beggs handled a rocky first inning on Saturday.

The Commodores sent eight batters to the plate and they had three hits. VU loaded the bases with two outs, but a flyout to center ended the threat with just one run across.

Beggs had his first two strikeouts in the opening frame, and after allowing the three hits, he settled down to give up just four the rest of the night.

"What Dustin did in the first inning, it wasn't very clean," Henderson said. "It had the chance to be a mess but he got out of it. He found his rhythm and really found his command after that, I thought that was as impressive as anything we'd seen in a while.

"Early on, they were clearly sitting on the outer half [of the plate] on the fastball. So we got him off the fastball a little bit, and he did a much better job of mixing the sides of the fastball. It was much better than we did last night."

Tomorrow, the Wildcats go for their fourth Southeastern Conference series win against a top-20 opponent in six chances. On the mound, Beggs has played a significant role in UK's success against ranked foes.

The senior has three wins over ranked opponents and a no decision in another two.

Along with an 8.1-inning, 3-run showing last week to clinch the series at No. 5 Florida, Beggs earned a win vs. No. 20 Mississippi State when he allowed three runs in 6.0 innings on March 21.

At No. 1 LSU on March 28, Beggs gave up just two runs, one of them earned. 

It's performances like that that helps give his teammates confidence against ranked opponents.

"I think we really get a boost of confidence when we come in," Beggs said. "We think we have the team that's capable of doing it. We just go out and play our game and don't let anything affect us, and we've been doing well with that."

If Beggs keeps on pitching the way he did Saturday night, he and the Wildcats will have a few more big wins under their belt before his senior season comes to a close.


Video: Dupree walks gold carpet at NFL Draft

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Video from the 2015 CATSPYs

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Opening


Lip sync battle


Shelby Hilton's FaceTime shoutout


Senior tribute


Video: Coach Cal receives Adolph Rupp Cup

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Kelsey Nunley pitched nine shutout innings in UK's 1-0 win over WKU on Wednesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kelsey Nunley pitched nine shutout innings in UK's 1-0 win over WKU on Wednesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kelsey Nunley had waited for three weeks to break the record, so a couple extra innings were no issue.

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."

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