LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 18 University of Kentucky softball team could not keep its momentum going from its thrilling 4-2 win Saturday against No. 3 Florida, falling to the highly ranked Gators in Sunday’s rubber match, 6-3 at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Ky.
Saturday was a historic day for Kentucky (31-12, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) as it officially named its new $9.5 million stadium after longtime administrator John Cropp, on top of posting a 4-2 win over top-three ranked Florida. The win over UF was Kentucky’s fifth of the season over a top-25 ranked team and 36th vs. a ranked foe 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.
Freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley added to the historic win Saturday by becoming the first pitcher in school history to win 20 games in a season. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., surpassed former UK stars Keary Camunas and Chada Bell, who had previously been the only players to win 19 games in a single season.
The loss Sunday completes a 4-2 week for Kentucky that saw Lawson become the winningest head coach in school history with win No. 182 on Wednesday against Eastern Kentucky University. UK started the week with a come-from-behind win Tuesday over Marshall before sweeping its doubleheader at EKU the next day. The week was completed with the series loss to Florida.
Kentucky started junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess in the circle Sunday with the tri-captain going 2.1 innings, allowing five runs – all earned – on seven hits. She was relieved in the third inning by Nunley, who threw the final 4.2 innings of the game, allowing only two hits and one earned run with two strikeouts. Cumbess picked up the loss, moving her record to 8-5 on the year with a 3.45 ERA, while Nunley did not receive a decision, staying at 20-4 on the year with a 2.02 ERA. Nunley went 3-0 on the week, striking out 15 in 25.2 innings pitched.
Cumbess paced Kentucky at the plate with a 2-for-4 game, including her team-leading ninth home run of the season and two RBI. The strong game at the dish continued Cumbess’ nine-game hitting streak, which is a career best. The junior has an extra-base hit in eight of her last nine games, while for the week she hit .455 (10-for-22) with four doubles, three home runs and seven RBI.
Senior Alice O’Brien also had a multi-hit game, going 2-for-3 with two singles, while sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner went 2-for-4 with an RBI double and a run score. Freshmen Maisie Steed and Christian Stokes, and junior Krystal Smith each had singles in the game.
Florida started junior ace Hannah Rogers, who threw three innings, allowing three runs – all earned – on five hits with one strikeout. Sophomore Alyssa Bache threw a scoreless 2.1 innings after Rogers, allowing only four hits with two strikeouts, while sophomore Lauren Haeger held UK hitless in the final 1.2 innings. Rogers got a no decision in the game with Bache picking up the win to move to 7-0. Haeger earned her second save of the season.
Freshman Taylor Schwarz led UF at the dish, going 3-for-3 with three RBI, including a solo home run, two RBI single and a leadoff triple. Freshman Kelsey Stewart was 2-for-4 with an RBI, while Kirsti Merritt and Haeger each had a hit and an RBI.
For the third time in the series, Florida got on the board in the first inning, scoring a single run on Sunday. Stewart started the rally with a single through the left side of the infield, moving to second on a stolen base. Haeger then put the Gators on the board with single up the middle, scoring Stewart. Cumbess then walked Horton before getting two popups to end the rally.
Kentucky answered by tying the game in the bottom of the first. After Steed singled to rightfield to start the game and moved to second on the sacrifice bunt by Stokes, Joiner stepped up and hammered a 1-1 pitch into the gap in left-centerfield, scoring Steed and tying the game 1-1. After a strikeout, Rogers gave up a walk, before getting a groundout to end the rally.
Schwarz gave Florida the lead back in the top of the second inning, blasting a leadoff home run to leftfield to make it 2-1 Gators. Taylore Fuller kept the rally going with a single to leftfield, moving to second on the sacrifice bunt by Katie Medina. After Stewart flied out for the second out, Merritt singled up the middle to score Fuller and give Florida the 3-1 lead. Cumbess got a groundout to end the inning.
The Gators got two more runs in the top of the third inning on a two-run single by Schwarz. After Cumbess got a groundout to start the inning, Brianne Little walked before the single by Stephanie Tofft moved runners into scoring position on the throw to third. Schwarz made UK pay, singling to leftfield to score both runners and give UK a 5-1 lead. Cumbess was then replaced in the circle by Nunley, who got Fuller to foul out to Smith, who caught the ball and threw out Schwarz at third trying to advance a bag.
Kentucky cut the lead to 5-3 in the third inning behind the two-run homer by Cumbess. After Steed hit a hard line drive for the first out, Stokes doubles to right-centerfield before getting thrown out at second when Joiner reached on a fielder’s choice. Cumbess then lifted the first pitch she saw over the wall in rightfield to cut the UF lead to two runs. After a walk to Sagermann, Carroll lined out sharply to rightfield to end the inning.
Florida added an insurance run in the sixth inning on an infield single by Stewart. Schwarz again was in the middle of the rally, hitting a leadoff triple to rightfield. Nunley then got back-to-back pop ups on the infield for two outs, before Stewart hit a slow roller to third and beat the throw to first for an RBI single.
Florida leads the all-time series between the two teams with a 43-12 record, including a 21-7 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 nine meetings, including a three-game sweep of Florida in 2011. Lawson is 6-11 against Florida in her tenure at UK, including a 4-4 record in games played in Lexington. UF took two of three games from UK last season in Gainesville.