Nunley's 9 Ks, Steed's 2-Hit Game Not Enough as UT Edges UK
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley posted nine strikeouts over four innings pitched, while fellow junior utility player Maisie Steed had two hits and a run scored, but No. 11 Tennessee rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning on a two-run, walk-off single by shortstop Meghan Gregg, to grab a 5-4 victory on Wednesday in the opening round of the 2015 Southeastern Conference Tournament at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, La.
After Kentucky was retired in order in the top of the seventh inning holding a 4-3 lead, Tennessee faced freshman pitcher Erin Rethlake in the bottom of the seventh inning. After a leadoff walk to sophomore catcher Annie Aldrete, infielder Megan Geer grounded a ball sharply to Christian Stokes at shortstop, who fielded and threw to junior infielder Ansley Smith covering second base, who dropped the ball for an error. After a walk to utility player Gretchen Aucoin loaded the bases, Kentucky returned Nunley to the mound to face Gregg. The freshman hit a deep fly ball to leftfield that went off the top of the wall and bounced away from UK leftfielder Sylver Samuel, scoring two runs and giving the Lady Vols the win.
Rethlake took the loss in the circle, moving to 4-1 on the season. The freshman tossed 1.1 innings in the game, allowing two runs -- only one earned -- on no hits and two strikeouts. Nunley received a no-decision, tossing 4.2 innings with three runs allowed on six hits with nine strikeouts and three walks.
Rainey Gaffin got the win in the circle with 4.1 innings, allowing three runs -- two earned -- on five this with one walk. Erin Gabriel tossed 1.2 innings, allowing a hit with two strikeouts, while Gretchen Aucoin tossed an innings and allowed a run and two hits.
Kentucky held a lead most of the game getting an RBI double from Rethlake in the second inning and an RBI double from senior catcher Griffin Joiner in the third inning to hold a 2-0 lead through three complete innings.
The Lady Vols scored a run in the bottom of the fourth after Nunley loaded the bases with two walks and a hit-by-pitch before walking Gaffin to score a run. An inning later, after Kentucky grabbed a 3-1 lead when Samuel reached on a single and scored on a passed ball, Geer hit her 12th home run of the season to left-centerfield to tie the game 3-3.
Kentucky responded in the top of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by senior Kara Howard, who moved to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Smith and to third on a wild pitch. The wild pitch allowed Howard to score when Stokes hit a groundball through the legs of the Tennessee third baseman for an error. The Wildcats lead wouldn't hold long as Tennessee's Gaffin shut the door in the top of the seventh to set the tone for the game-winning rally in the bottom of the final frame.
Steed was the leader offensive, going 2-for-4 with a run scored, while Joiner and Rethlake were both 1-for-4 with RBI doubles, and Samuel was 2-for-4. Junior infielder Nikki Sagermann was 1-for-4 to extend her hitting streak to a career-high tying seven games, while Howard was 1-for-3 with a run scored.
The walk-off win for Tennessee was its third straight over Kentucky as the two teams met Wednesday for the fourth time in six days. The Lady Vols swept a three-game series with Kentucky last weekend to conclude regular-season play, getting walk-off home runs Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday's game marked the seventh straight game UK has scored first against Tennessee with the Lady Vols holding a 5-2 record in those games.
Kentucky will now wait to hear if its impressive regular-season resume has earned it an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. A difficult conference schedule and challenging non-conference schedule has UK's strength of schedule No. 2 in the nation, according to the latest NCAA RPI that was released Monday. The Wildcats have played 53 games this season, including 26 against top-25 RPI teams and 35 against top-50 RPI teams. The Wildcats have played 27 straight games against top-50 RPI teams and have not played a team outside the top 50 since March 18. UK only has one loss this season against a team ranked outside the top 50. Kentucky is No. 23 in the NCAA RPI, moving back one spot from last week's ranking. UK has 12 wins this season against top-50 RBI teams.
The NCAA Softball Selection Show will be held Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
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