FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – In what appeared to look like another fairy tale ending at the Southeastern Conference tournament for the Kentucky softball team resulted in heartbreak. Owning a 1-0 lead off of a Molly Johnson home run and in the middle of the seventh inning with a pair of base runners on the paths, severe weather moved into the area and halted the game. After a 2 hour and 33 minute wait before play resumed, LSU smacked a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh to advance to the semi-finals Friday.
After UK pitcher Rachel Riley sat the first two batters down on back-to-back groundouts, LSU doubled down the right field line to get a runner aboard in the bottom of the seventh. All-SEC player Kristen Shortridge chose that time to hit her first home run of the season to provide the heroic at-bat.
Kentucky drops to 31-25 overall for the season and will now await to see if it has earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
To open the first inning the Wildcats fell in order. Junior Megan Yocke drilled a shot deep into the left-center gap but the LSU left fielder made a spectacular diving snag to rob Yocke of the game’s first hit.
Starting pitcher Chanda Bell retired the opening two batters before yielding a single through the left side. The right-hander wasted little time in getting out of the inning as she sat down the clean-up batter on strikes to end the inning.
LSU earned the only base runner of the second inning. The Tigers placed a runner on the paths with two outs after she was plucked with a pitch during the first offering. Bell and the UK defense forced a groundout to second base to end the stanza.
For the third consecutive inning the Tigers placed a runner aboard with two outs in the frame. The designated home team earned its second hit of the game, but Bell would force a foul out to Brittany Cervantes at third to preserve the shutout.
Johnson broke open the scoreless tie in the top of the fourth with a lead off solo home run to make the score 1-0 in favor of UK. It was Johnson’s 11th home run of the season, but the first since March 27th in a win over Georgia.
LSU earned another base runner, this time thanks to a base on balls. Bell and the UK defense continued to stymie the Tiger attack not allowing any further damage in the stanza.
Neither team reached in the fifth frame as both pitchers kept the opposing offense suppressed.
The designated home squad opened the bottom of the sixth by slicing a double into the left center gap. LSU put a second runner aboard behind the second walk of the game issued by Bell. Rachel Lawson opted to make a pitching change and brought in Riley with two runners aboard and no outs. The sophomore right-hander quickly got the clean-up batter to miss on strikes. The next batter grounded a ball to Cervantes at third who tapped third on the force out and narrowly missed the double play. The final out came on a line out back to the pitcher as Riley preserved the shutout.
Yocke reached base on a single back to the pitcher in the top of the seventh. Cervantes drilled a ball into the left-center gap to place two runners aboard with just one out in the top of the stanza before rain began to fall. Severe weather moved into the area and play was halted for 2 hours and 33 minutes. After the lengthy delay, Samantha DeMartine worked a 1-2 count before grounding into a double play leaving two runners aboard.
The Wildcats will learn their fate on Sunday as the NCAA will make selections for the 64-field national tournament. In order for UK to earn a spot in the tournament they will have to claim an at-large bid.