LEXINGTON, Ky. – Freshman catcher Jenny Schaper and seniors Kelsey Nunley and Nikki Sagermann lifted the 12th-ranked Kentucky softball team to a dramatic walk-off, 3-2 win over visiting Mississippi State in the opening game of the final regular-season series of the year on Friday night at John Cropp Stadium. Schaper posted a 2-for-4 outing with both hits coming in the form of a double and was responsible for the walk-off run on a wild pitch in the home half of the ninth inning.
Twice Kentucky walked to the plate in its final at bat needing a score, and twice the Wildcats delivered.
UK trailed 1-0 and was down to its final out in the bottom half of the seventh when Schaper smoked a double into right field to bring life to the home dugout. Nunley then delivered an RBI single into shallow left field for the tying run to extend the game.
After the Bulldogs regained the lead in the top half of the eighth, Sagermann struck for a solo homer over the right field fence to once again knot the score. It was Sagermann’s sixth home of the season.
Junior lefty pitcher Megan Prince yielded a two-out single, but induced a grounder back to the mound to keep the sheet clean and set the stage for the Wildcats’ offense in the bottom of the inning.
Schaper once again came through in the clutch with a leadoff two-bagger. She moved to second when Nunley executed a beautiful sac bunt. The Bulldogs opted for a change in the circle and brought in Holly Ward. Ward earned a 1-2 count on senior Christian Stokes, but on her fourth offering the ball sailed to the backstop giving Schaper enough time to scoot home for the winning run.
Kentucky moves to 41-11 overall on the season and 15-7 within Southeastern Conference action. Mississippi State falls to 25-28 and 3-19 in league play. Prince is credited with the win and improves to 18-4 on the year. Nunley started the game and worked 7.2 innings. She gave up two runs on six hits and struck out five.
UK will hold its annual Senior Day at 11:45 a.m. ET on Saturday prior to the start of game two in the series which will begin at Noon. Senior Day festivities will begin on the field with an individual recognition of all six seniors followed by a ceremonial first pitch and a special senior tribute video before the start of the game.
The six seniors that will be honored are Sylver Samuel, Maisie Steed, Stokes, Nunley, Ansley Smith and Sagermann.
Five. Entering the seventh inning the Wildcats’ offense had mustered just two hits in the game. UK’s offense has only been limited to two or fewer hits in six outings this season. Beginning in the seventh inning, UK’s offense exploded for five of its seven total hits in the game.
Nunley’s game-tying RBI single in the home half of the seventh inning ignited the Wildcats’ rally and stirred excitement into the crowd of 1,087 fans in attendance.
Schaper earns the distinction of tonight’s key player. UK’s every day starter behind the plate enjoyed a 2-for-4 outing and a run scored. Both runs came in the form of a double. She entered tonight’s game with four career doubles – all of which resulted in RBIs.
Mississippi State scratched the scoreboard first with a tally in the top half of the sixth. Loryn Nichols led off with a single up the middle and shifted to second on a sac bunt. Following another single to the second base bag, runners graced the corners. State’s Kayla Winkfield then took her first offering and laced a rocket into deep centerfield to plate the run. Nunley induced a fly ball to left field and Sarah Rainwater gunned down the runner trying to score from third to prevent any more damage. MSU 1, UK 0.
Down to its final out, Schaper roped a line drive into right field that glazed the glove of MSU’s fielder, but resulted in a double for the catcher. Smith came into run for Schaper, setting the stage for Nunley. With a 2-2 count, Nunley lofted the ball into shallow left field and with the hit-and-run on, Smith rounded third and headed home with plenty of time for the tying score. Stokes kept the rally alive with a screamer through the left side to put two runners aboard, but a pop-out to second ended the rally. UK 1, MSU 1.
The Bulldogs responded with a run in the top half of the eighth. A single and consecutive walks loaded the bases with two outs. A bloop single that died about 12 feet from the plate gave the Bulldogs just enough time to scoot home. MSU 2, UK 1.
With a 3-2 count and one out Sagerman crushed 34th career home run, but perhaps one of the more timely hits of her career, to tie the game once again in the home half of the eighth. A misplayed ground ball by the Bulldogs’ second baseman enabled Abbey Cheek to reach safely and extend the inning. A wild pitch in the dirt enabled Cheek to scoot to second, before a groundout to second allowed the runner to shift to third. MSU’s shortstop made a spectacular defensive play to end the threat and extend the game once again. UK 2, MSU 2.
Schaper led off the home half of the ninth with her second double of the game, this time lacing one off of the third baseman’s glove. Nunley shifted the runner to third with a beautiful sac bunt setting the stage for the walk-off score on the wild pitch. FINAL – No. 12 Kentucky 3, Mississippi State 2.