Seniors' 7th-Inning Rally Powers Softball to Super Regionals
Gainesville Super Regional Schedule: Kentucky and Florida will start the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPNU at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The best-of-three super regional will continue Sunday at Noon ET on ESPN with an if necessary game scheduled for 3 p.m. ET. More information, including tickets when it becomes available.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Senior outfielder Kara Howard laced a leadoff single up the middle to start the seventh inning before senior catcher Griffin Joiner hit a clutch single to rightfield to score two runs, lifting Kentucky to its third straight appearance in a NCAA Super Regional with a 4-3 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday at Melissa Cook Stadium.
Kentucky, which went 3-0 at the NCAA South Bend Regional with wins over Northwestern, Ball State and host and No. 16 national seed Notre Dame, entered the bottom of the sixth inning tied with the Fighting Irish, 2-2, before a leadoff home run from catcher Cassidy Whidden put the Irish on top, 3-2.
That set the stage for the Kentucky seniors to take control of the game in the top of the seventh inning with Howard leading off with a sharp single up the middle to get the rally started. After Howard was out at second base on junior infielder Christian Stokes' fielder's choice, junior infielder Nikki Sagermann singled up the middle to put two runners on base. Fellow junior Sylver Samuel popped up for the second out of the inning before Joiner worked a full count and dropped a single in rightfield that scored Stokes easily. The Notre Dame rightfielder fielded the ball cleanly and threw errantly, allowing Sagermann to score the eventual winning run.
The one-run cushion was all junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley needed to seal the victory as the Kentucky ace shut the door in the bottom of the seventh inning to pick up her 14th win of the season. The Irish didn't go quietly as Jenna Simon led off with a single and stole second base before moving to third base on a groundout. Nunley answered by getting two pop ups on the next two pitches to clinch the Wildcats' victory.
"This was a great game for us," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "Obviously it was a tight game. I thought it was a great game for the fans. Notre Dame is a great offensive team. They have so many different weapons and so many different tools. I really think that Nunley did a great job on the mound keeping them off balance and keeping the number of runners on base to a minimum. That was our game plan going into the game. To have a senior come up and get the game-winning hit just means a lot to us and it shows how really tough we have been down the stretch."
The win sends the Wildcats to the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional against No. 1 overall seed Florida, which defeated Hofstra, Florida Atlantic and Florida A&M to claim the NCAA Gainesville Regional. Times and dates for the Super Regional are still to be determined. The Super Regional is a best two-out-of-three format with the winner advancing to the eight-team Women's College World Series, scheduled for May 28-June 3 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Kentucky will be making its third straight appearance in a NCAA Super Regional after advancing to the NCAA Tempe Super Regional in 2013 and NCAA Los Angeles Super Regional in 2014. The Wildcats will be looking to advance to their second straight WCWS after its amazing postseason run a season ago. UK is 20-15 all-time in NCAA Tournament play. Kentucky's win over Notre Dame was its seventh over a ranked foe this season and first since taking down then-No. 5 Alabama on April 4.
In her eighth year as the head coach at Kentucky, Lawson has taken the program to unprecedented heights with seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances, four Super Regionals and one WCWS. Prior to Lawson, Kentucky had never earned a bid into the NCAA Tournament with Lawson achieving that and more in eight short seasons. The Wildcats are one of 21 teams nationally to advance to seven straight NCAA Tournaments. Under Lawson, Kentucky has defeated 62 top-25 foes, including 35 top-10 teams and 19 top-five teams.
Nunley was impressive for the second straight day in the circle, picking up the win to move to 14-14 on the year with a 2.39 ERA in 199 innings pitched with 187 strikeouts. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., allowed just three earned runs on seven hits with six strikeouts in the game after Notre Dame put on an offensive show in both its games played Saturday with 29 runs scored in 10 innings. The school's all-time leader in wins, Nunley is limiting opponents to a .231 average this season with 16 complete games and four shutouts. Sunday's win was Nunley's 11th in NCAA Tournament play, which is also a school record.
-- UK Softball (@UKsoftball) May 17, 2015
Offensively, it was Joiner with the clutch hit for Kentucky -- her second single of the day -- to put the Wildcats on top for good. The senior finished 2-for-3 with two RBI after drawing a bases-loaded walk in the third inning. Sagermann was 3-for-4 in the game with her second home run of the weekend -- and eighth of the season -- with two runs scored and a RBI. The three-hit day for Sagermann was her ninth multi-hit game of the season and extended her career-best hitting streak to 10 games.
Samuel and junior utility player Maisie Steed each had hits in the game to extend hitting streaks. Samuel has recorded a hit in five straight games -- which is a season-best hitting streak -- while Steed has a hit in four straight games. Howard was the only other Wildcat with a hit, reaching on the leadoff single in the seventh inning. Overall, Kentucky outhit the Irish, 8-7.
Notre Dame (42-15) started Rachel Nasland in the circle, who went all seven innings, allowing four runs -- three earned -- on eight hits with four strikeouts and two walks. The loss concludes Nasland's season at 17-9. Offensively, Karley Wester went 2-for-4 with a run scored, while Whidden had a home run and Micaela Arizmendi had a RBI single.
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South Bend Regional - May 15-17 - Melissa Cook Stadium - South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame (42-15)
NCAA South Bend Regional Schedule
Friday, May 15
Game 1 -- Kentucky def. Northwestern 5-4
Game 2 -- Ball State def. Notre Dame 6-3
Saturday, May 16
Game 3 -- Kentucky def. Ball State 5-0
Game 4 -- Notre Dame def. Northwestern 14-5
Game 5 -- Notre Dame def. Ball State 15-4
Sunday, May 17
Game 6 -- Kentucky def. Notre Dame 4-3