LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky senior outfielder Emily Gaines had been waiting nearly four years for this moment. She made the most of it. With the tying run in scoring position and UK down to its final two outs, Gaines belted her first career home run – a two-run, walk-off winner to leftfield – propelling No. 8 Kentucky to a thrilling 2-1 win over EKU on Saturday evening at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Ky.
Entering the seventh inning having not posted a hit, Kentucky junior catcher Griffin Joiner started the game-winning rally with a single to leftfield and was pinch ran for by sophomore Darington Richardson. After a foul out to deep rightfield by Cumbess moved Richardson into scoring position, Gaines – a native of London, Ky. – stepped to the plate and delivered the biggest hit of her career. The senior worked the count full after facing a 0-2 deficit before hammering a line drive over the wall in left-centerfield to clinch the UK victory with her first career roundtripper.
“It feels so good,” Gaines said after the game. “I can’t even describe it. All my family is here and this is a moment I have been waiting for. I was just trying to look for a good pitch and drive it. Our pitchers had done a good job of keeping us in the game and I wanted to reward them for that.”
The come-from-behind win was the second of the day for Kentucky (16-2) after sophomore infielder Ansley Smith recorded a walk-off hit in UK’s 4-3 extra-innings win over Pittsburgh earlier in the day. UK’s offense started slowed against Pittsburgh as well, before posting two runs in the fifth inning and two more in the ninth inning behind international tiebreaker rules to clinch the victory. Ansley Smith, who went 2-for-4 with two RBI in the game paced the UK offense against Pittsburgh, while fellow sophomore Maisie Steed recorded a multiple-hit game, going 2-for-4 with her second home run of the season.
In the circle, Kentucky received two clutch performances from freshman hurler Meagan Prince, who earned the win in both games to move to 5-0 on the year with a 1.66 ERA in 21.2 innings pitched. Prince, who has 25 strikeouts on the season, threw the final three innings in UK’s win over Pittsburgh, allowing an unearned run in the ninth inning on one hit with three strikeouts. The native of Martin, Tenn., was just as impressive in the win over EKU, tossing the final 2.1 innings, not allowing an EKU hit with five strikeouts.
Cumbess earned a no decision against Pittsburgh after starting the game and throwing six strong innings, allowing two runs on six hits with four strikeouts. Freshman pitcher Shannon Smith got the start against EKU, throwing 4.2 innings with one earned run on four hits with four strikeouts. Shannon Smith received a no decision in the UK win.
Pittsburgh (8-8) got a strong effort in the circle from Savannah King, who tossed all 8.2 innings for the Panthers, allowing four runs – three earned – on four hits with five strikeouts. Offensively, Pittsburgh was paced by Carly Thea, who went 3-for-4, while Carissa Throckmorton was 1-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored.
EKU (7-7) tossed Leanna Pittsenbarger against Kentucky with the junior hurler tossing six hitless innings to start the game before UK’s eventual game-winning rally in the seventh inning. Pittsenbarger allowed two runs on two hits with nine strikeouts in the loss, moving her record to 5-3.
The wins for Kentucky continue its best start to a season in school history. The Wildcats’ 16-2 record is their best ever through 18 games. Kentucky started the season 12-0, which was the best start in school history and longest winning streak in school history.
Saturday’s action concludes play in the UK Tournament as Sunday’s schedule has been cancelled due to the threat of inclement weather in the Lexington area. With the cancellation, UK will now turn its attention to Southeastern Conference play as it will open up league action next Friday in Starkville, Miss., against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who are receiving votes in the national rankings.