LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky sophomore third baseman Nikki Sagermann hit a three-run home run in the first inning, while freshman pitcher Meagan Prince tossed a strong 5.2 innings to earn her seventh win of the season, before fellow rookie Shannon Smith earned her first career save getting the final four outs of the game, as No. 12 Kentucky claimed a 5-3 victory over No. 18 Texas A&M on Sunday afternoon at John Cropp Stadium.
The win for Kentucky (31-8, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) clinched its third SEC series win of the season with all three series wins coming against teams either ranked or receiving votes in the national rankings when UK faced them. The Wildcats started league action by winning two of three games at Mississippi State before claiming the series against then-No. 16 Missouri the following weekend. UK dropped its lone SEC series thus far last weekend against highly ranked Auburn before clinching the series Sunday vs. the top-20 ranked Aggies.
“This was a great series for us,” seven-year head coach Rachel Lawson said. “Friday, I thought they really got the best of us offensively, on the mound, all the way around. For the team to be able to bounce back and play tough was great. We got production from a lot of players and I feel great about this weekend.”
Kentucky’s win on Sunday was its 10th this season over a team either ranked or receiving votes at the time UK played them. Under Lawson, UK has 48 wins against top-25 opponents. Saturday’s win over A&M was UK’s 30th of the season, marking the fastest a UK team has every earned 30 wins in program history. The Wildcats have seven 30-win seasons in school history, including six straight under Lawson.
“I feel good about it because it means we have a good program and a good tradition,” Lawson said about the six straight 30-win seasons. “To be able to put so many winning seasons together in a row means that there is a lot of things going right. It means the staff is doing well, the players – and not just one, but a lot of them – are producing. We get to see a lot of alumni in the stands and they are really proud of what we are doing and where we are heading. To be able to continue that great tradition way back when we started seven years ago, it means a lot to me.”
Sagermann gave Kentucky an early lead in the game with her sixth home run of the season, which ranks second most on the team. The homer came as part of a two-out rally by the Wildcats after junior catcher Griffin Joiner placed a two-out single up the middle, moving to second when senior outfielder Emily Gaines walked. That set the stage for Sagermann, who hammered a pitch over the wall in centerfield to put UK up 3-0.
After a two-run home run from Texas A&M pinch hitter Breanna Dozier in the fifth inning, UK earned a run on an Aggie error in the bottom of the frame to increase its lead to 4-2. A&M cut the lead back to one at 4-3 in the top of the sixth on an RBI groundout by Abby Donnell, before a sacrifice fly by sophomore shortstop Christian Stokes gave UK a 5-3 lead that it did not relinquish.
Sagermann paced the UK offense with a 2-for-3 game, including three RBI and a run scored. The native of Buford, Ga., who is currently on a season-best four-game hitting streak, has an RBI in seven of Kentucky’s last nine games and now leads the team with 28 RBI. Stokes also had two hits in the game, going 2-for-2 with her second triple of the season and a sacrifice fly. Joiner went 1-for-3 with a run scored, while sophomore outfielder Sylver Samuel and senior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess each had singles.
“For about the past three weeks to a month, Nikki has started to hit her stride,” Lawson said. “She is tough and is seeing the ball really well. She is one of those hitters that is willing to stay in the box and let it come to her. She has a lot of guts and has done a great job at the hot corner for us. I think her play is a main reason we have been able to win some games the last couple of weeks.”
Prince was fantastic in the circle for Kentucky, starting the game with 5.2 impressive innings to pick up her seventh win of the season. The rookie allowed three runs – all earned – on five hits with one strikeout before leaving the game with runners on second and third and two outs in the sixth inning. Smith took care of the rest for UK, getting a foul out to end the sixth inning and striking out two A&M batters in the seventh to pick up her first career save. Smith was brilliant for UK over the weekend, throwing 6.1 scoreless innings, allowing only two hits with seven strikeouts.
“I think it is really important this time of year that you give as much experience as you can to your young pitchers,” Lawson said. “I thought Shannon (Smith) had an awesome weekend and I thought Meagan (Prince) did a great job today. I feel good about our pitching staff.”
Texas A&M (27-12, 8-7 SEC) started Rachel Fox in the circle after the junior picked up the win Friday night behind seven strong innings. Fox threw 5.1 innings Sunday, allowing five runs – four earned – on seven hits with five strikeouts. Donnell tossed the final two outs of the game, getting both batters she faced out.
Offensively, Donnell went 2-for-3 with an RBI and run scored, while Dozier hit a two-run homer and outfielder Cassie Tysarczyk and infielder Reagan Boenker each had singles.
Kentucky will return to action with a pair of midweek home games Tuesday and Wednesday at John Cropp Stadium. The Wildcats will square off against Wright State on Tuesday and Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday, with both games set for a 5 p.m. ET first pitch. Live scores from both games will be available online at UKathletics.com.
Single-game tickets into John Cropp Stadium are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors (65+) and youth (6-18). Children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge. Tickets are all general admission, and can be purchased by calling the ticket office at 1-800-928-2287. Tickets are also sold at John Cropp Stadium prior to each game, and all sales are cash only. Gates open one hour prior to first pitch.
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Kentucky – 31-8, 7-5 SEC
Texas A&M – 27-12, 8-7 SEC
Kentucky - No. 12 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25; No. 12 in NFCA/USA Today Top 25
Texas A&M - No. 18 in ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25; No. 21 in NFCA/USA Today Top 25