COLUMBIA, S.C. – True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley tossed a gutsy seven innings, allowing four runs and retiring 15 of the last 16 batters she faced, while junior Ginny Carroll launched a three-run, pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning to guide the No. 20 University of Kentucky softball team to a 9-4 series-clinching victory over South Carolina on Saturday at Carolina Softball Stadium.
The win for Kentucky (26-10, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) was its fifth straight in SEC action after sweeping Mississippi State two weekends ago in Lexington. UK has now claimed the series over South Carolina five consecutive seasons dating back to 2009. The series will conclude with a 1 p.m. ET first pitch on Sunday. Live stats and live video from the game will be available online through the links provided below. Fans can also get real-time updates on Twitter by following @UKSoftball.
Sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson has now won 65 SEC games in her tenure at Kentucky, which is more conference wins than the program had overall (1997-2007) when she accepted the position before the 2008 season. This is the third SEC series win of the season for UK, who has now claimed three or more SEC series in a season five times under Lawson. The five-game SEC win streak is the second longest in school history, marking the fourth time a UK team has won five straight in conference play. This is the third time it has happened under Lawson’s tenure. The longest SEC winning streak in school history is six games by the 2011 team that had back-to-back sweeps over Mississippi State and Florida.
After a rocky first inning, Nunley delivered a strong performance for Kentucky in the circle, throwing a complete game for the second consecutive night to get the win. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., allowed four runs – all earned – on seven hits with four strikeouts. After the first inning, Nunley kept South Carolina scoreless, giving up three hits in the final six innings with four strikeouts, retiring 15 of the last 16 batters she faced to end the game.
The rookie hurler is an impressive 17-4 on the year with a 2.09 ERA. Nunley’s 17 wins moves her into a tie for fourth on UK’s single-season wins list with Morgan Marr, who had 17 in 2001. Nunley is the first UK pitcher to post 17 or more wins in a season since Chanda Bell had 18 in 2010. Bell and Keary Camunas hold the single-season record for wins in a season with 19.
Nine Wildcats recorded a hit in the game as UK’s offense exploded for nine runs on 11 hits. No hit was bigger than the three-run homer by Carroll – her second roundtripper of the season – to blow the game open in the top of the seventh inning. Junior infielder Lauren Cumbess had a strong night at the dish, going 2-for-3 with a two-run, game-tying home run in the third inning and a two-out, rally starting double in the seventh inning. Freshman Nikki Sagermann kept her team-leading batting average up with a 2-for-4 night, while sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner went 1-for-3 with an RBI single and a sacrifice fly.
Freshman Maisie Steed collected the other UK RBI in the game, going 1-for-2 with a double and a run scored, while freshmen Christian Stokes and Sylver Samuel, senior Alice O’Brien and junior Emily Jolly each collected hits. Samuel’s single moved her career-long hitting streak to four games.
South Carolina (19-16, 1-10 SEC) started Julie Sarratt in the circle, who went four innings, allowing five runs – four earned – on six hits with three strikeouts. She was relieved in the fifth inning by Katie Marks, who threw the final three innings, allowing four runs on five hits with two strikeouts. USC got multi-hit games from Dana Hathorn, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI, while Chelsea Hawkins was 2-for-3. Sarratt helped her cause in the first inning with a two-RBI single, finishing the game 1-for-3.
For the second straight night the Wildcats scored first in the game, moving their record to 17-2 when they score first this season. After Steed started the game with a deep fly that was caught at the centerfield wall, Stokes hit an infield single to the left side, advancing to second on a wild pitch. Joiner then drove home Stokes with a single up the middle, giving UK the early lead. After a strikeout, Sagermann doubled to shallow right-centerfield and Cumbess walked to load the bases for Gaines, who hit a sharp grounder that the USC shortstop bobbled allowing a run to score. A foul out to third ended the inning with UK up 2-0.
The Gamecocks answered with four runs in the bottom of the first inning to take a 4-2 lead. The inning started with three consecutive singles from Samie Garcia, Alaynie Page and Hathorn to cut the UK lead to 2-1. USC then tied the game when Kristen Sturett hit a grounder to the right side that Cumbess fielded and threw home to get the runner, who was called safe to tie the game. After a popup and a groundout, Sarratt singled to leftfield to score two runners and give the Gamecocks a 4-2 lead.
The Wildcats tied the game in the third inning behind the two-run homer from Cumbess. O’Brien began the rally with a double off the rightfield wall and after a groundout, Cumbess stepped up and hammered a home run to the opposite field to tie the game 4-4. Sarratt got a groundout and a strikeout to end the inning.
Kentucky took the lead back in the fourth inning getting a sacrifice fly from Joiner. A lineout by Samuel started the inning before Steed walked, stealing second base and advancing to third on a wild pitch. After Stokes walked, Joiner hit a laser to rightfield for a sacrifice fly and her 30th RBI of the season.
UK added an insurance run in the sixth inning on back-to-back hits from Samuel and Steed. Samuel started the rally with a one-out bunt single, moving to second on a stolen base before Steed hammered a double to left-centerfield, giving UK the 6-4 lead.
Carroll put the game away in the top of the seventh inning, blasting a three-run, pinch-hit homer over the wall in leftfield. The rally started with a two-out double by Cumbess, who was pinch-ran for by Kara Howard. Jolly then hit an infield single to put two on for Carroll, who launched a full-count pitch to give Kentucky a 9-4 lead.
South Carolina leads the all-time series against Kentucky 35-20, including an 18-10 mark in games played in Columbia, S.C. The Wildcats are 11-6 against the Gamecocks under Lawson, including a 6-2 mark in Columbia. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series in games played in Lexington 10-15 and at neutral sites 2-0. UK has played 55 games against USC all-time, marking the second-longest series in program history. The longest series is 57 all-time games against Georgia.