COLUMBIA, S.C. - University of Kentucky sophomores Nikki Sagermann, Christian Stokes and Sylver Samuel each posted multi-hit games, including a walk-off single in the ninth inning by Sagermann that followed a clutch double by Stokes, pacing No. 15 Kentucky to a 4-3 nine-inning win over Mississippi State on Wednesday in the opening round of the 2014 Southeastern Conference Tournament at Carolina Softball Stadium.
The win for Kentucky (42-14) moves the Wildcats to the quarterfinals of the event, where they will square off with second-seeded Tennessee on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
Kentucky entered the bottom of the ninth inning with the game tied 3-3, getting a leadoff walk to sophomore Ansley Smith before Stokes’ double put runners at second and third with no outs. After a foul out by Samuel, Sagermann stepped into the box and lined a single up the middle to score Smith and clinch the Wildcat win.
“I was pretty excited when I came up,” Sagermann said about her approach to the game-winning hit. “I was seeing the ball pretty well. I know I was only 1-3 before it, but especially with one out and a runner on third, I knew I had to get it through the infield, a sacrifice fly or a base hit. I love situations like that, I was ready. I was pretty confident I could get a good pitch and put it through the infield.”
The victory was Kentucky’s 42nd of the season, marking the most wins in a season in program history. UK set the school record for wins in a season last year with 41 en route to a NCAA Tournament national seed and NCAA Super Regional appearance.
“That’s one thing about our team, we don’t give up. We’re known for that. If we get behind, we’re going to do anything we can to come back and have a good game,” Sagermann said. “I was pretty confident actually that the top of our lineup was coming through. I was confident we were still going to win, I wasn’t worried too much.”
Stokes paced Kentucky at the plate with a 3-for-4 night with a home run – her sixth of the season – with two RBI, while Sagermann was 2-for-4 with two RBI and Samuel was 2-for-5 with a run scored. Senior outfielder Emily Jolly went 1-for-3 in the game with a run scored and a walk. Stokes has a hit in four of her last five games with RBI in three of those games, while Sagermann has an RBI in 12 of her last 20 games with seven multi-RBI games during that stretch. Samuel has been the offensive starter for Kentucky with a hit in 21 of her last 32 games with a run scored in 22 of her last 32 games.
Sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley was the star in the circle for Kentucky with nine innings pitched, allowing three earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts. Nunley held the Bulldog offense scoreless for the first five innings, before allowing a three-run triple in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., shut the door from there, not allowing a hit in the following three innings to pick up the win and move to 22-7 on the season. The sophomore has 49 career wins at Kentucky, ranking third most in a career in school history.
Mississippi State (38-19) started senior Allison Owen in the circle, who allowed hits to the first three UK batters she faced before a strikeout and walk ended her outing. She was replaced by freshman Alexis Silkwood, who tossed eight innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits with four strikeouts and five walks. Silkwood received the loss, moving to 13-7 on the season, while Owen received a no-decision.
The SEC Tournament win for Kentucky was its second in program history, moving the Wildcats overall record in the event to 2-9. This was the first meeting between Kentucky and Mississippi State in the event and the fourth this season between the two schools, with UK holding a 3-1 record in those games.
Kentucky earned the No. 7 seed in the tournament with a 13-11 conference record, marking its fourth straight winning season in league action. Prior to seventh-year head coach Rachel Lawson taking over the program, UK had only posted a winning SEC record one time. The appearance in the four-day event is the sixth-consecutive for Kentucky and it’s eighth all-time.
The Wildcats will face a familiar foe in the quarterfinals of the event in highly ranked Tennessee. UK faced the Lady Vols a few weekends back in Lexington, Ky., dropping two games of the three-game series. Tennessee leads the all-time series between the two teams 37-13, including winning the lone meeting between the two schools in SEC Tournament play back in 2011 in Oxford, Miss.
The event, which is considered one of the most prestigious softball tournaments in the nation, started with two first-round games Wednesday, followed by four quarterfinals games on Thursday. Friday will feature two semifinal contests before the championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. The championship game will be televised on ESPN2, while all other games will be shown on ESPNU.