Five-run fifth leads No. 8 UT to series win over No. 9 UK softball

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 9 University of Kentucky softball team posted two runs in the first inning behind a two-RBI double from senior Emily Gaines, but No. 8 Tennessee rallied for five runs in the fifth inning on five hits and a UK error, leading the Lady Vols to a 9-2 series-clinching win on Sunday afternoon at John Cropp Stadium.

The game concluded UK’s regular-season home schedule with the Wildcats posting a 17-7 record at John Cropp Stadium this season. The UK program recognized the dedication and excellence of seniors Ginny Carroll, Lauren Cumbess, Sarah Frazer, Emily Gaines, Emily Jolly and Krystal Smith before the game. The group of seniors have won an impressive 151 games and counting in their four-year careers, marking the most by any senior class in school history.

Sunday’s crowd of 1,685 fans at John Cropp Stadium takes the weekend attendance total to 4,664, which is a program record for total attendance in a three game series.

Kentucky will return to action Wednesday when it travels to face in-state foe Louisville at 6 p.m. ET. UK will conclude regular-season play next weekend in Athens, Ga., against the highly-ranked Bulldogs. Game one of the series is set for 6 p.m. ET on Friday before a 4 p.m. ET start on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. ET finale on Sunday.

The series loss to Tennessee (39-9, 14-7 Southeastern Conference) was only the second SEC series loss of the season for Kentucky (40-11, 13-8 SEC), who have clinched a winning record in conference play for the fourth consecutive season. The loss drops UK to third in the SEC standings, sitting a game behind Missouri and Tennessee for second place.

Kentucky won game two of the series Saturday night, marking its ninth win this season against a team ranked at the time UK played them, including its second against a top-10 team. Kentucky has defeated 49 ranked foes in head coach Rachel Lawson's seven-year tenure at UK. Kentucky has 40 wins this season, which is one off the program record for wins, which was set last year when UK finished 41-21 en route to the second NCAA Super Regional in school history.

The game started promising for Kentucky with the Wildcats jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Junior catcher Griffin Joiner started the game with single to rightfield, moving to third when sophomore Nikki Sagermann lined a one-out double to left-centerfield. That set the scene for Gaines, who hammered a double to centerfield to score two runs and give UK the early lead.

Tennessee scored nine unanswered runs the rest of the way to take control of the game. The scoring started in the second inning when senior Melissa Davin hit a leadoff home run to cut the UK lead to 2-1. UK sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley responded to the home run by retiring nine batters in a row before the UT offense scored five runs in the fifth inning on five hits to take a 6-2 lead. The key hit in the inning was a two-run single by freshman Taylor Koenig. UT added single run in the sixth inning and two runs in the seventh inning to seal the 9-2 victory.

Nunley received the loss in the game, moving to 20-6 on the year. The sophomore went seven innings, allowing seven runs – five earned – on eight hits with four strikeouts and four walks allowed. Offensively, Kentucky was paced by Gaines, who went 1-for-3 with two RBI, while Sagermann had a double. Joiner was 1-for-2 with a run scored, while senior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess and senior outfielder Emily Jolly each had singles.

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