Nunley Strong in Relief to Lift No. 8 Softball in Series-Clincher
April 19, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. - University of Kentucky softball pitcher Kelsey Nunley came on in relief to throw six strong innings for the win, while senior infielder Krystal Smith hit a solo home run and sophomore infielder Nikki Sagermann hit another game-winning roundtripper in the fourth inning, pacing No. 8 Kentucky to a historic 7-5 series-clinching win over Arkansas on Saturday night at John Cropp Stadium.
The win was the ninth consecutive for Kentucky (38-8, 12-5 Southeastern Conference), which is the second longest winning streak in school history. The Wildcats set the school record for consecutive wins to start the 2014 season with 12 victories in a row. Entering the season, no team in program history had won nine or more games. In 18 years of UK softball, this is the seventh time a team has won eight or more games in a row with six of those streaks coming under seventh-year head coach Rachel Lawson.
Kentucky's 38 regular-season wins this season tie the school record for most wins in a regular season. The 2013 team posted a school-best 41 wins overall, including 38 in regular-season play.
"It starts in the circle and we have got great performances out of all four of our pitchers," Lawson said. "I have to give them a lot of props for that. Most importantly, offensively, our team knows that they are never out of it. They are starting to gain a lot of confidence and playing the game a little bit smarter. We are doing different things. We are hitting the long ball, playing the short game, hitting behind runners. I just think it is great because we are growing and it is a good time to be doing that as we push towards the end of the season."
Saturday night's win over Arkansas was the seventh straight SEC win for Kentucky, which sets a program record for consecutive league games won. The previous record of six games was set in 2011 and 2013. The victory clinched the series for Kentucky, who has now won five league sets this season, which ties the second most SEC series wins in program history. The Wildcats also won five league sets in 2011 before claiming six league series in 2012.
"I think the great thing about this team is we are winning games a lot of different ways and a lot of different people are contributing," Lawson said. "Last night, it was the bottom of the order getting a lot of hits and today we got some big hits and got it done on the mound again. I think it is such a balanced team and we are getting great effort out of everybody and we are getting different types of effort every single day. It is good because we are able to match our player's strength against the other teams. Again, just really happy with the balance."
Kentucky's balance was on full display Saturday night, starting with Nunley, who came on to start the second inning and tossed six innings, allowing two runs - one earned - on seven hits with four strikeouts. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., earned the win to move to 19-4 on the season with a 1.85 ERA. Nunley has 46 career wins in her short tenure with the Wildcats, which ranks third on UK's all-time wins list.
Senior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess started in the circle, allowing three earned runs on three hits in one inning of work. The senior answered with her bat in the bottom of the frame, however, earning a two-out, two-RBI single up the middle to cut into the Razorback's lead. Krystal Smith went 1-for-3 in the game with her second home run of the season, while Sagermann continued her impressive hitting with a 2-for-3 night with two RBI and a home run. On the season, Sagermann leads UK with 10 homers and 37 RBI and has recorded an RBI in 12 of UK's last 16 games. Junior catcher Griffin Joiner and sophomore infielder Ansley Smith each posted singles.
"I think the great thing about today is that our offense did continue to chip away and get the lead and maintain the lead, which was nice," Lawson said. "Kelsey did a great job again today of coming in and shutting them down. They have such a great offense the fact that she was able to keep them off balance and keep the runs down was a big boast for us today."
Arkansas (25-22, 3-14 SEC) started freshman Sydney Wright in the circle for the second consecutive game. Wright went 1.2 innings, allowing four earned runs on two hits with one strikeout and five walks. Sophomore Kelly Young came on in relief and tossed 4.1 innings with UK scoring three earned runs on four hits. Wright got the loss, moving to 4-6 on the season with Young getting a no-decision.
Offensively, Arkansas was paced by multi-hit games from junior Devon Wallace, sophomore Stephanie Canfield and senior Clarisa Navarro. Wallace and Canfield each recorded RBI, while senior Jennifer Rambo had a two-RBI single and freshman Parker Pocklington had an RBI.
Arkansas scored first in the game for the second consecutive night, getting three runs in the first inning behind a RBI double from Canfield and two-RBI single by Rambo. After UK responded with two runs in the bottom of the frame on Cumbess' two-RBI single, the Wildcats posted two runs in the second inning to grab a 4-3 lead it did not relinquish. Krystal Smith started the rally in the second by flying out before Ansley Smith was walked, senior Emily Jolly was hit by a pitch and Joiner was walked to load the bases for pinch hitter Breanne Ray, who hit an RBI groundout to tie the game. Arkansas walked Sagermann intentionally to load the bases before UK scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch to go up 4-3.
Krystal Smith increased UK's lead to 5-3 with her solo home run in the third inning before the Razorbacks cut the lead to 5-4 with an RBI single by Wallace in the top of the fourth. Kentucky responded in the bottom of the frame, again, with Sagermann launching her fourth home run in the last three games, putting UK up 7-4. The home run was the game-winner for Kentucky, marking the third consecutive game-winning home run from Sagermann.
Arkansas added a run in the seventh inning on an RBI single from Pockington before Nunley got senior Jayme Gee to strikeout with the tying runs on base to end the game.
The Wildcats conclude the series with the Razorbacks on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at John Cropp Stadium. Live stats, free radio and live video (subscription required) will be available online at UKathletics.com. The entire UK team will sign autographs after the game, while the first 100 fans into John Cropp Stadium on Sunday will receive a set of 2014 softball trading cards.
Single-game tickets into John Cropp Stadium are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors (65+) and youth (6-18). Children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge. Tickets are all general admission, and can be purchased by calling the ticket office at 1-800-928-2287. Tickets are also sold at John Cropp Stadium prior to each game, and all sales are cash only. Gates open one hour prior to first pitch. Fans that show the #SocialSpecial softball photo at the gate that was put on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram earlier this week, will receive free admission for up to four.
For the latest on UK softball, follow "@UKsoftball" on Twitter and Instagram or like Kentucky Softball on Facebook.
Kentucky 38-8, 12-5 SEC
Arkansas 25-22, 3-14 SEC
Kentucky - No. 10 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25; No. 8 in NFCA/USA Today Top 25
Arkansas - not ranked
Friday, April 18
Kentucky def. Arkansas 4-3
Saturday, April 19
Kentucky def. Arkansas 7-5
Single-game tickets for the series are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors (65+) and youth (6-18). Children ages 5 and under and UK students with a valid student ID are admitted free of charge. Tickets are all general admission, and can be purchased by calling the ticket office at 1-800-928-2287. Tickets are also sold at John Cropp Stadium prior to each game, and all sales are cash only. Fans that show the #SocialSpecial softball photo at the gate that was put on Twitter and Instagram earlier this week, will receive free admission for up to four.
Sunday - #SocialSpecial admission coupon; Little League Day; Poster station; Free posters and schedule cards; Team autographs following the game; First 100 fans receive softball trading cards