Prince Impressive as Softball Splits DH vs. No. 5 Alabama
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- University of Kentucky sophomore pitcher Meagan Prince tossed 5.1 brilliant innings in the circle in game one to grab her 10th win of the season, while junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley pitched a scoreless seventh inning to pick up her school-record seventh career save, as No. 13 Kentucky defeated No. 5 Alabama, 2-1, in the series opener at John Cropp Stadium on Saturday. Alabama claimed a 7-3 victory later in the day to even the series.
The series will conclude Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network with Mark Neely and Olympic Gold Medalist Michele Smith calling the action. The game will also be available through WatchESPN. Live stats will be available online at UKathletics.com. The second game Saturday between Kentucky and Alabama drew 1,951 fans, which is a school record for a UK game at John Cropp Stadium. The all-time largest crowd at John Cropp Stadium was 2,509 for the 2013 Southeastern Conference Championship game.
Single-game tickets are available and are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors (ages 65 or older) and youth (ages 6-18), while children ages five and under will be admitted free of charge. Tickets are available by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets. Tickets will be sold - cash only - on game days at the ticket booths outside John Cropp Stadium with gates opening one hour prior to first pitch.
UK marketing is running several promotions Sunday, including the first 100 fans receiving a set of UK softball trading cards. Junior Wildcat Club members receive free admission plus one when they present their ID on Sunday, while it will be Family Fun Day at the park, featuring pregame and postgame youth activities, including face painting, hair bow making, inflatables, autographs and pictures with the team. Following the game -- weather permitting -- all kids eighth grade and younger can run the bases. All kids eighth grade and younger are also invited to bring an Easter basket to John Cropp Stadium on Sunday to decorate and participate in Scratch's egg hunt. Complete details on promotions can be found online here.
Kentucky (28-10, 4-7 SEC) claimed the series opener behind strong pitching performances from all three Wildcat pitchers that took to the circle. Prince started the game and tossed 5.1 strong innings with only three hits allowed and one earned run with five strikeouts. After allowing an RBI single in the first inning, Prince settled in and retired 14 of the last 17 batters she faced to pick up her 10th win of the season and lower her earned run average to 3.04 in 71.1 innings pitched.
Prince was replaced by freshman pitcher Erin Rethlake with one out and the tying run on second in the top of the sixth inning with the true freshman getting two outs to spoil the Crimson Tide's scoring chance. Rethlake started the seventh inning and allowed a leadoff walk before UK head coach Rachel Lawson turned to Nunley, who struck out the first two batters she faced before an error put the winning run on base. Nunley responded by getting a strikeout to earn the save. The save was Nunley's fourth of the season and seventh of her career, making her the school's career leader in saves.
Offensively, the Wildcats only recorded two hits in the game, getting singles from seniors Griffin Joiner and Kara Howard in the two-run fourth inning. Joiner started the inning with a leadoff single, moving to second when Rethlake reached on a one-out error. After Howard singled to load the bases, junior Ansley Smith drew an RBI walk before freshman outfielder Brooklin Hinz had an RBI groundout to put UK on top 2-1.
Alabama started freshman Alexis Osorio in the circle, who went six innings allowing one earned run on two hits with five strikeouts, retiring 21 of the 26 batters she faced. Offensively, Marisa Runyon was the leader, going 1-for-3 with an RBI, while infielder Demi Turner was 1-for-4 and infielder Leona Lafaele was 1-for-2.
The win for Kentucky was its sixth this season over a ranked opponent, including five ranked inside the top 10 when Kentucky defeated them. UK has three wins against top-five ranked teams in its last six games after taking down then-No. 1 LSU twice last weekend at John Cropp Stadium. In her eight-year tenure in Lexington, Lawson has defeated 61 ranked teams, including 35 top-10 teams and 19 top-five teams. The victory was only Kentucky's fifth all-time over Alabama with four of those wins coming under Lawson's tenure.
Both teams showed more offensive power in the day's second game with Alabama (28-9, 9-5 SEC) posting four runs in the top of the seventh inning to claim the 7-3 victory. The Wildcats scored first when sophomore Breanne Ray hit an RBI single in the first inning, before the Tide scored twice in the second to take a 2-1 lead. UK responded in the bottom of the second when junior Maisie Steed hit a two-run double to put the Wildcats back on top 3-2. After Alabama tied the game on a solo home run in the third inning, both teams went scoreless until the seventh when junior outfielder Haylie McCleney hit a three-run home run off Rethlake and shortstop Danae Hays blasted an opposite field solo shot to give the Tide a 7-3 victory.
Ray was 3-for-4 in the game for Kentucky with an RBI, while Steed was 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored. Junior infielder Nikki Sagermann was 1-for-4, while Joiner and Smith were 1-for-3.
Nunley started in the circle for Kentucky in game two, tossing five innings with five earned runs allowed on seven hits with four strikeouts. Nunley was credited for two runs in the seventh inning after allowing back-to-back infield singles to start the frame. Rethlake gave up the two home runs in the seventh, recording an out and walking two batters. Nunley came back in to pitch with two on and two outs to record the final out of the four-run rally. Sophomore Shannon Smith relieved Nunley to start the fourth inning and pitched 1.2 innings with no hits allowed and two strikeouts. The loss moved Nunley to 11-6 on the season.
Alabama used all three of its pitchers to get the win in game two, starting the game with Jury, who went four innings with three earned runs allowed on five hits with four strikeouts and four walks. Littlejohn replaced her twice in the game, tossing a total of two innings with two hits allowed and no runs. Alabama tried to reenter Jury to start the seventh inning, but had reentered her once already in the game and she was therefore an illegal player. Osorio came on instead in the seventh and allowed a hit, but sealed the win. Littlejohn was the pitcher of record when Alabama took the lead and received the win to move to 12-1 on the season.
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Kentucky 25-10, 4-7 SEC
Alabama 28-9, 9-5 SEC
Kentucky -- No. 13 in USA Today/NFCA Top 25; No. T14 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Alabama -- No. 5 in USA Today/NFCA Top 25; No. 6 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Friday, March 27
Alabama at Kentucky -- POSTPONED
Saturday, March 28
Kentucky def. Alabama 2-1
Alabama def. Kentucky 7-3
Sunday, March 29
Alabama at Kentucky -- 3:30 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network