TEMPE, Ariz. – After taking down No. 3-ranked California in its season opener two days ago, the University of Kentucky softball team continued its winning ways against ranked foes in day three of the Kajikawa Classic by taking down No. 20/21 Stanford 3-1 behind an excellent pitching effort from freshman hurler Kelsey Nunley. UK lost its first game of the day to Portland State. Both games were played at the Tempe Sports Complex in Tempe, Ariz.
Nunley was fantastic against Stanford, going all seven innings, allowing only four hits. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., allowed only one earned run in the contest, striking out eight, which was one off her career high of nine against Western Michigan on Friday.
Nunley is off to a great start in her first season with Kentucky. The true freshman is 3-0 on the year in four appearances, including two starts and two complete games. Nunley holds a 2.83 ERA in the circle, throwing 17.1 innings, allowing 19 hits, seven runs – all earned – while striking out 19. In her two starts, Nunley has gone 12 innings, giving up only eight hits and two earned runs while striking out 17.
Kentucky (4-2) got a strong offensive showing in the win by senior leadoff hitter Kara Dill, who went 3-for-4 with two runs scored. The co-captain set the table for several other Wildcats as senior outfielder Alice O’Brien went 2-for-3 with an RBI single and a run scored. Junior Emily Jolly came off the bench to go 2-for-2 for her first multi-hit game of the year, while freshman Nikki Sagermann went 1-for-3 with an RBI and Cumbess 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly. Infielder Krystal Smith was the only other Wildcat to post a hit in the game, going 1-for-2.
Sagermann leads the Wildcats in batting average after the first weekend of play, hitting .429 with a double and two RBI. Seniors Kara Dill and Alice O’Brien along with juniors Ginny Carroll and Lauren Cumbess are off to strong offensive starts. Dill is hitting .368 with seven hits, one double, five runs scored and an RBI, while O’Brien is hitting .400 with seven runs scored, two doubles and three RBI. Carroll leads the team in RBI with six while holding a .417 average, while Cumbess is hitting .368 with seven hits, one double and five RBI.
The victory over Stanford (4-2), who is ranked 20th by ESPN.com/USA Softball and 21st by USA Today/National Fastpitch Coach Association, was Kentucky’s 33rd win over a top-25 opponent under head coach Rachel Lawson. It was UK’s second of the young season after the Wildcats took down No. 3 Cal in the season opener 3-2. The win was also the first ever by Kentucky against Stanford in softball. Entering Sunday’s contest, the Cardinal were 4-0 against the Wildcats.
UK jumped on top of Stanford with a run in the first inning and never looked back. The inning started when Dill doubled down the left-field line. After Maisie Steed struck out for the first out of the inning, O’Brien hit a liner to right field for a single, scoring Dill.
Stanford would place its first batter of the game on base with an infield single, but would not collect another hit until the fifth outing due to impressive pitching from Nunley.
UK would get its second run in the third inning with Dill once again getting things started with a leadoff hit. Dill would advance to second with one out after a nice sacrifice bunt by Steed and would later advance to third on the second hit of the game from O’Brien. Cumbess would collect an RBI on the next at bat, hitting a fly ball down the right-field line for a sacrifice fly and a 2-0 UK lead.
UK’s third and final run was scored in the top of the fifth inning when O’Brien collected a leadoff walk, advancing to second on a wild pitch. After Cumbess struck out for the first out, Sagermann reentered the game as the designated player and hit a single that got past the diving shortstop, scoring O’Brien and giving UK the 3-0 advantage.
Stanford got its lone run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kayla Bonstrom started the inning with a single and was removed for a pinch runner in Tylyn Wells, who was out at second when Cassandra Roulund grounded into a fielder’s choice. Jessica Plaza then hit a shot to deep left field with UK outfielder Kara Howard robbing a home run over a short fence in left. However, Howard would knock the temporary fencing over and fall down on the play. The home plate umpire granted Roulund second base due to the ground rules. Schaberg then singled up the middle to score Roulund and cut UK’s lead to 3-1.
The Cardinal got no closer as Nunley stranded two Stanford runners on base in the sixth and after a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh, Nunley got two pop ups and a fly out to center to end the game.
UK started the day with a 5-3 loss to Portland State (2-3). The Vikings jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the game and never looked back to defeat the Wildcats. After a leadoff walk to start the game, Becca Bliss placed a perfect sacrifice bunt to the pitcher Ellen Weaver, who threw wildly to first, allowing runners to reach third and second. Lauren Bliss then delivered the big blow with a two-run ground rule double to right field. After a groundout advanced Bliss to third, Crysta Conn hit a liner just off Sagermann’s glove to score PSU’s third run and secure the 3-0 lead. Weaver got out of the jam with a strikeout and a pop up.
The Wildcats answered with two runs in the bottom of the first. Steed started the rally with a one-out walk, followed by a double from O’Brien, scoring Steed, and advancing herself to third on the throw home. O’Brien then crossed the plate when Cumbess lined a single up the middle, make it a 3-2 game.
The Vikings got two insurance runs in the fifth inning. Bliss started the inning with a walk, advancing to second when Lauren Bliss singled. Aubrey Nitschelm then hit into an infield fly before Conn singled to load the bases. Candice Orozco then hit a ground rule double to score two runs and give PSU a 5-2 lead.
Kentucky got a run in the ninth inning off an RBI single by Sagermann, scoring Cumbess, who reached base with a double.
UK will stay out west for its next tournament, playing in the 23rd Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego, Calif. The tournament is being hosted by San Diego State. UK will play five games over three days of the event, facing off against Cal Poly, San Diego State, No. 16 Washington, UC Riverside and No. 2 Oklahoma.
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 for the tournament will be released next week on UKathletics.com.