LEXINGTON, Ky. – On the day that the No. 18 University of Kentucky softball team named its new stadium after long-time administrator John Cropp, the Wildcats got a record-setting performance in the circle by freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley and a career-high three-RBI game from junior infielder Krystal Smith to take down No. 3 Florida 4-2 in a series-evening win on Saturday at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Ky.
Nunley was fantastic pitching for Kentucky (31-11, 9-5 Southeastern Conference), throwing a complete game allowing two runs on three hits with eight strikeouts. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., is now 20-4 on the year becoming the first player in school history to win 20 games in a season. After allowing a single and home run to the first two batters she faced, Nunley settled down, retiring 16 of the final 20 batters she faced to end the game.
Nunley’s 20-win season surpasses the previous record of 19 games, which was set by Keary Camunas (2000) and Chanda Bell (2009). The rookie hurler now has 130 strikeouts on the year, ranking her eighth on the single-season strikeout list.
Smith paced the Wildcats at the dish with a career game, going 2-for-2 with a career-best three RBI. Smith singled to leftfield in her first at-bat before a sacrifice fly to rightfield to tie game 2-2 in the fourth inning. The native of Bristow, Va., delivered the game-winning runs in the sixth inning with a single down the leftfield line, giving UK the 4-2 win.
Six other Wildcats earned hits in the game, including a multi-hit game from sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI double. Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess went 1-for-3 in the game to extend her season-high tying eight-game hitting streak, while freshman Nikki Sagermann started the rally in the sixth with her lone single of the game. Junior Ginny Carroll went 1-for-2 in the game with two runs scored, while senior Alice O’Brien had a double and freshman Sylver Samuel earned a single.
Kentucky has now won seven of its last eight SEC games, and 11 of its last 14 overall with the only losses during that stretch coming to top-15 ranked teams. The win over Florida was Kentucky’s fifth of the season over a top-25 ranked team. The Wildcats have now defeated 36 top-25 teams under sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson, including 13 wins over top-five ranked teams. The win over Florida marks the second time UK has taken down a top-three team this season after opening the year with a win over then-No. 3 Cal.
The series will conclude Sunday with a Noon ET first pitch at John Cropp Stadium. Admission to the game is free of charge, while live stats and live video (subscription required) will be available on UKathletics.com.
Before the game, Kentucky honored Cropp, who has spent over 20 years as an administrator at Kentucky – including starting the softball program back in 1997 – by naming the new $9.5 million stadium, John Cropp Stadium. Cropp, along with UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart and the program’s first head coach Beth Pruitt, threw out ceremonial first pitches Saturyday.
Florida scored first in the game, getting a two-run home run from Kirsti Merritt to take a 2-0 lead. The inning started with a single to leftfield by Kelsey Stewart before Merritt stepped in and drilled a home run to right-centerfield. Nunley got three pop ups to end the inning.
The Wildcats answered in the bottom of the first inning with a single run. Freshman Christian Stokes started the rally with a one-out walk before Joiner drilled an opposite field double down the rightfield line to score Stokes and cut the lead to 2-1. Florida sophomore Lauren Haeger, who took the loss in the circle going six innings allowing four runs on nine hits, got a strikeout and a foul out to end the rally.
Kentucky tied the game in the fourth inning the sacrifice fly by Smith. Carroll got the inning started with a double to right-centerfield, moving to third on a groundout, before Smith drilled a deep fly to rightfield that scored Carroll from third and tied the game 2-2.
UK claimed the win with its two-run sixth inning behind a two-RBI single by Smith. The inning began with a leadoff single to leftfield by Sagermann, who was pinch ran for by junior Emily Jolly. Carroll then walked to put runners on first and second with no outs before a strikeout for the first out of the inning. After a double steal put runners at second and third, Smith drilled a line drive that deflected off the third-baseman’s glove and into leftfield scoring both runners. Smith was thrown out at second base trying to stretch the single into a double. A groundout ended the inning.
Nunley worked a strong top of the seventh inning to seal the win. After a strikeout and flyout to start the frame, Nunley walked Merritt to bring up Haeger, who struck out swinging to end the game.
Florida leads the all-time series between the two teams with a 42-12 record, including a 20-7 mark in games played in Lexington. The Gators also lead the series 21-5 in games played in Gainesville, Fla. Kentucky has had more success as of late against the Gators, winning five of the last eight meetings, including a three-game sweep of Florida in 2011. Lawson is 6-10 against Florida in her tenure at UK, including a 4-3 record in games played in Lexington. UF took two of three games from UK last season in Gainesville.
Kentucky will play host to the SEC Tournament this season for the first time in school history. The event, which is considered one of the most prestigious softball tournaments in the nation, will be May 8-11 in Lexington. The championship game will be featured on ESPN2, while all other games will be shown on ESPNU. Ticket information is available at www.UKathletics.com/secsoftball.