Nunley Brilliant as Softball Drops Series Opener at No. 3 Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- University of Kentucky junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley threw a complete game in the circle, limiting one of the best offensive teams in the nation to just one earned run on three infield hits, but Kentucky's offense could not get anything going against Florida senior pitcher Lauren Haeger, dropping the series opener, 1-0, at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on Saturday.
Nunley was impressive for Kentucky (27-12, 4-9 Southeastern Conference) in front of a KSP Stadium record 2,488 fans Saturday. The junior allowed just three infield singles and one earned run to the Gators, who entered the game ranked 10th nationally in scoring. The impressive outing marked only the fourth time this season Florida (38-4, 9-4 SEC) has been held to one run of fewer, while it was also the fourth time the Gators have recorded three or less hits. It was only the fifth time this season Florida has not recorded an extra-base hit in a game.
The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., allowed one run in the first inning on two hits and two walks before ending the game by retiring 12 straight hitters. The first inning started when junior infielder Kelsey Stewart reached on an infield single to second base, moving to second on a groundout before Nunley got the first of five strikeouts in the game for the second out of the inning. After back-to-back walks to load the bases, junior infielder Taylore Fuller hit a ground ball between second and third base to score a run and give the Gators a 1-0 lead. UF's third hit of the game was a bunt single by outfielder Kirsti Merritt in the third inning.
Haeger made sure the one run was all Florida needed to win, allowing just three Wildcats to reach base in the game, throwing a complete-game shutout, allowing two hits and one walk with four strikeouts. The win moves Haeger to 18-0 on the season, while the loss puts Nunley at 11-8. The loss for Nunley was the fourth time this year the junior, who was on the 2015 USA Softball Preseason Top 50 Watch List for national player of the year, has allowed two or less earned runs in a losing effort.
Kentucky's hits came from the top of the lineup as junior infielder Christian Stokes went 1-for-3 with a hard-hit single to rightfield, while fellow junior infielder Nikki Sagermann reached base twice, going 1-for-2 with a walk and single. Two of UK's three runners to reach base reached with two outs, making it difficult for the Wildcats to get going offensively. It looked like Kentucky had tied the game in the fifth inning when junior infielder Ansley Smith hit arguably the hardest hit ball of the day to deep leftfield before the ball died in the high humidity and was caught at the wall by UF leftfielder Nicole DeWitt.
The three-game series will continue Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on the SEC Network+ through WatchESPN. Monday's finale will be televised nationally on the SEC Network with Adam Amin and former Texas A&M All-American Amanda Scarborough calling the action.
Florida is the third consecutive top-five conference foe for the Wildcats, who started this tough run by taking two of three games over No. 1 LSU before a win last weekend over No. 5 Alabama. Kentucky is the only team in the conference so far this season to face three straight top-five ranked conference foes. UK's final three SEC series after Florida are against South Carolina, who is receiving votes, No. 11/14 Tennessee and No. 12/12 Georgia.
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Kentucky 27-12, 4-9 SEC
Florida 38-4, 9-4 SEC
Kentucky -- No. 13 USA Today/NFCA Top 25; No. 15 ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Florida -- No. 3 USA Today/NFCA Top 25; No. 3 ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
Saturday, April 11
Florida def. Kentucky 1-0
Sunday, April 12
Kentucky at Florida -- 3 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network+
Monday, April 13
Kentucky at Florida -- 7 p.m. ET -- Live Stats -- SEC Network+