LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky freshman infielder Nikki Sagermann blasted a solo home run in the second inning and senior infielder Kara Dill laced an RBI single in the third inning, but it wouldn’t be enough for the 12th-seeded Wildcats as fifth-seeded Arizona State got a two-run home run from Haley Steele in the top of the seventh inning to take down UK 5-2 on Sunday and clinch a spot in the Women’s College World Series.
Arizona State posted a 5-4 win over Kentucky in game one of the best-of-three Super Regional on Saturday night. Both games were played in front of sellout crowds at Farrington Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University.
The loss for Kentucky (41-21) completes one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Wildcats started the season by tying the best start in program history, while it finished with 41 wins overall, setting a new school record for wins in a single season. Last weekend, UK hosted a NCAA Regional for the first time in school history, going 3-1 in the event to advance to the school’s second-ever NCAA Super Regional.
Throughout the season UK had many milestones as freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley set a new school record for wins in a season with 27, while she also became the first pitcher to start a season 10-0 for Kentucky in the circle. In all, UK earned nine wins over teams that were ranked in either softball top-25 listing when UK defeated them, including five against top-10 teams. Two of those wins came in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as UK won its first ever series against the Crimson Tide, who are the defending national champions.
Sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson, who became the winningest head coach in school history earlier this season, has led Kentucky to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments. The Wildcats are one of 23 teams in the nation to claim that honor. The five NCAA Tournament berths are the lone five in school history.
Nunley got the start in the circle for Kentucky for the second consecutive game, throwing all seven innings, allowing five runs – all earned – on seven hits with two strikeouts. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., ends the season with a 27-11 record and 2.14 ERA with 193 strikeouts in 268.2 innings pitched.
Offensively, Kentucky was paced by Sagermann and Dill, who each collected RBI. Sagermann went 1-for-2 in the game with her seventh home run of the season and 26th RBI, while Dill was 1-for-4 with an RBI single in the third inning. Senior outfielder Alice O’Brien had a hit in the game going 1-for-2, while junior infielder Krystal Smith went 1-for-3.
Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess ends the season leading UK in batting average at .323 (65-for-201) with a team-best 13 home runs and 43 RBI. Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner was second on the team with a .322 (58-for-180) with 10 homers and 41 RBI, while Dill and O’Brien end their senior seasons hitting over .300.
ASU started star pitcher Dallas Escobedo in the circle, who threw a complete game, allowing two runs – both earned – on four hits with five strikeouts. Offensively, Steele was 3-for-4 for ASU posting four RBI, including a two-run homer, while Alix Johnson was 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
Arizona State scored first in the game for the second consecutive day, getting a leadoff single from Johnson, who moved to second on a stolen base and later scored when Cheyenne Coyle singled through the right side of the infield. After a great sliding catch on a foulout by Joiner for the first out of the inning, Nunley got a flyout to leftfield and a strikeout to end the threat.
Kentucky answered to tie the game in the bottom of the second inning when Sagermann hit Kentucky’s fifth home run of the series to deep left-centerfield. Escobedo got a lineout and two strikeouts to end the inning.
The Sun Devils grabbed the lead back in the third inning after getting their leadoff hitter on for the third consecutive inning. It was Coyle that drew the leadoff walk, moving to second on a groundout by Amber Freeman. That brought up Steele, who hit an RBI single to centerfield, moving to second when UK’s centerfielder misplayed the ball. Nunley then got a pop up and groundout to end the threat.
The Wildcats also took advantage of a leadoff walk in the bottom of the third inning to tie the score. Ginny Carroll pinch hit for UK drawing the leadoff base on balls, moving to second when freshman outfielder Sylver Samuel laid down a sacrifice bunt. Dill then hit a single over the infield to score Carroll and tie the game at 2-2. Escobedo got a groundout and lineout to end the inning.
Arizona State took the lead back in the top of the fifth inning after Johnson started the inning with a single to rightfield, moving to second on an error. Coyle then walked to put two runners on for Freeman, who bunted both runners over into scoring position. That set the stage for Steele, who singled through the right side of the infield to score Johnson and give ASU the lead. Steele was thrown out at second trying to advance on the play for the second out. After hitting a pinch hitter with a pitch, Nunley got Parlich to groundout to end the frame.
ASU added two insurance runs in the seventh inning after Nunley walked Coyle with one out before Steele blasted a two-run homer just fair to leftfield to make it 5-2 Arizona State.