Nunley Strong as Softball Ends Season vs. No. 1 Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kentucky junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley allowed just one earned run on five hits, but No. 1 national seed Florida got another dominating pitching performance from senior pitcher Lauren Haeger and an infield RBI single in the fourth inning, lifting the Gators to a 1-0 victory over Kentucky on Sunday in the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The win moves the Gators to the Women's College World Series.
"Today was a tough one because I thought we--luckily we played a lot better," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "I thought Kelsey was great on the mound. Florida's an outstanding hitting team and to be able to shut them down to just one run is a big deal, especially this time of year. They're a very good team and they know how to get to the World Series. To be able to do that says a lot about Kelsey. I thought our team played hard today. I thought we did a good job putting people on base. We just didn't get that timely hit when we needed to get that timely hit. So overall we played a lot better today, but when you're playing a team as good as Florida it always comes down to the little things."
Nunley and Haeger went head-to-head again in the circle for the second straight day as both pitchers silenced the other team's bats the entire game. Haeger earned the win to move to 28-1 in the circle after seven scoreless innings with three hits allowed and five strikeouts. Nunley received the tough-luck loss, moving to 14-16 on the year after allowing just five hits and one earned run on four strikeouts. The loss was the seventh this season for Nunley when allowing two earned runs or less with three of those seven coming against Florida. Sunday's game marked only the seventh time this season the Gator's offense had been limited to one run of less with Nunley claiming two of those games this season.
The lone score of the game happened in the top of the fourth inning after back-to-back one-out singles from Taylore Fuller and Kayli Kvistad put runners at the corners for pinch hitter Chelsea Herndon, who Nunley got to strikeout for the second out. Slapper Justine McLean followed with a chopper to shortstop for an infield single that scored a run and gave the Gators their decisive 1-0 victory.
Junior infielder Nikki Sagermann had one of the three hits in the game, starting the game with a leadoff single to shortstop before junior infielder Maisie Steed had a bunt single in the second inning. Kentucky's final hit of the game was a single up the middle by junior outfielder Sylver Samuel.
The loss ends Kentucky's season with a 32-26 record after facing the second-toughest schedule in the nation, according to the latest NCAA RPI. The Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh-straight year -- one of 21 teams nationally to claim that honor. After going 3-0 in the NCAA South Bend Super Regional, Kentucky advanced to a NCAA Super Regional for the third straight season and fourth time in the last five years. The Wildcats are one of only nine teams nationally to claim that honor. Overall, Kentucky defeated seven teams ranked inside the top 25, including five that were ranked top five at the time UK defeated them.
Sunday's game was the last in the storied career of two UK seniors -- catcher Griffin Joiner and outfielder Kara Howard. Joiner started every game of her collegiate career, mostly behind home plate, and ends her career ranking top 10 in nearly every offensive and defensive statistic. Howard will end her time in Lexington as one of the best defensive players to ever wear the Blue and White, making numerous defensive plays in the outfield during her time.
The 30-win season for Kentucky is the seventh straight under Lawson. Prior to Lawson, the Wildcats had only record one 30-win season. All seven NCAA Tournament appearances for Kentucky have come under Lawson, who is the winningest head coach in program history.
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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 def. Kentucky 1-0