Four-Run 1st Lifts No. 1 UF Past Cats in Super Regional Opener
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- University of Florida senior pitcher Lauren Haeger tossed seven brilliant innings in the circle, while her offense posted four runs in the first inning, powering the overall No. 1 seed to a 7-0 victory over Kentucky on Saturday in the opener of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
The Super Regional will continue Sunday with a noon ET first pitch on ESPN with an if-necessary game three starting at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN. Mark Neely and former Arizona All-American infielder Jenny Dalton-Hill will be on the call for both games, which will be available online through WatchESPN. Live stats will also be available on UKathletics.com.
After Haeger retired the Wildcats in order in the top of the first inning, Florida's offense went to work, getting a leadoff bunt single by junior infielder Kelsey Stewart before Nicole DeWitt hit an infield single past shortstop with DeWitt stealing second base on the next pitch to put two runners in scoring position. Kentucky junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley settled down to strikeout Haeger and designated player Bailey Castro before a walk and hit-by-pitch brought home Florida's first run. It looked like Nunley had ended the threat a few pitches later, as freshman Kayli Kvistad grounded out to first unassisted, but the home plate umpire ruled the ball hit Kvistad in the foot and it was ruled a foul ball. The Gator rookie made UK pay by doubling to rightfield later in the at-bat to clear the bases and give the Gators a 4-0 lead.
After the first inning, Nunley went toe-to-toe with Haeger by retiring the next 10 batters she faced in the game before sophomore Meagan Prince tossed a perfect fifth inning with a strikeout. Nunley received the loss in the game, going five innings allowing four earned runs on three hits with three strikeouts. The junior now has 602 career strikeouts and is only the second player in program history with 600 strikeouts.
Neither team could get its offense going after the first inning before Florida (54-6) blasted two home runs in the bottom of the sixth inning off Kentucky freshman Erin Rethlake. Haeger started the inning with a leadoff home run before Castro was hit by a pitch and Kirsti Merritt launched a two-run shot to leftfield. Rethlake did not record an out in the game with Nunley coming in to get Kentucky out of the sixth-inning jam.
Haeger kept Kentucky quiet offensively with only two hits allowed on six strikeouts. The senior, who is a top-three finalist for National Player of the Year, carried a perfect game into the top of the sixth inning before a one-out single by senior outfielder Kara Howard. Kentucky's other hit came in the seventh inning when senior catcher Griffin Joiner singled to rigthfield. The win moved Haeger, who has not allowed a run in three starts against Kentucky this season, to 27-1 on the year.
For the latest on UK softball, follow @UKsoftball on Twitter and Instagram or like Kentucky Softball on Facebook.
Gainesville Super Regional -- May 23-24 -- Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium -- Gainesville, Fla.
NCAA Gainesville Super Regional Schedule
Saturday, May 23
Game 1 -- Florida def. Kentucky 7-0
Sunday, May 23
Game 2 -- Florida vs. Kentucky -- Noon ET -- ESPN -- Live Stats
Game 3 -- Kentucky vs. Florida -- 3 p.m. ET -- ESPN -- Live Stats -- *if necessary