LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ninth-seeded Kentucky saw a late rally fall just short in Sunday’s regional Friday at John Cropp Stadium in front of a season-high 1,808 fans, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Utah Utes, who advance out of the Lexington Regional and into the Tallahassee Super Regional next weekend in the Sunshine State.
With the loss, Kentucky’s historic season comes to an end with a 46-14 overall record on the season and a program-record second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats beat 11 ranked teams in 2016 and had the most road wins of anyone in the nation, with a 20-3 record away from home.
The Wildcats saw a boost into its starting lineup this season with the addition of three critical freshman stars, in Katie Reed, Jenny Schaper and Abbey Cheek – who all three played crucial roles in not only this weekend’s Lexington Regional, but the entire regular season as a whole. Cheek broke the Kentucky record for freshman RBI, driving in 52 on the season – and became just the third player in program history to record 10-plus homers in her freshman season in the Blue and White.
Reed played sensational defense all season long, and shined even brighter this weekend, making some incredible plays up the spine of Kentucky’s defense. The Wildcats would not have even been playing if it weren’t for Reed’s RBI single on Saturday night in an elimination game vs. Illinois trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning. Reed started her career on an 18-hitting streak to break the UK record, and never looked back.
In what turned out to be a pitcher’s duel for the first four innings, Kentucky’s Meagan Prince was dealing on the heels of her shutout in game one, as she kept the Utes off the scoreboard for the first four innings of the second game. After retiring the first two batters in the fifth inning, Prince allowed two seeing-eye base hits and Kelsey Nunley was brought in. Two more successive base hits allowed the Utes to take a 3-0 lead.
Kentucky would respond in the bottom of the fifth with a lead-off solo home run from freshman Jenny Schaper, who caught all five of Kentucky’s games in the NCAA Tournament this weekend.
After Utah answered with a run in the top of the sixth to make it 4-1, Kentucky mounted its biggest threat in the bottom half of the inning. Katie Reed launched an RBI double to the wall in left to score Sylver Samuel from second – who got on via a throwing error. After freshman Abbey Cheek was hit by a pitch and Schaper singled to load the bases with two outs, sophomore Brooklin Hinz recorded an infield single to the shortstop to score a run and keep the bases loaded for Nunley. Nunley battled in her at bat before being called out on strikes in an inside pitch to end the inning.
Utah would make it 5-3 in the top of the seventh inning after a lead-off double by the Utes Kay Kay Fronda was cashed into a run on an RBI single by Hailey Hilburn.
The Wildcats brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, but a deep fly ball to left ended the game, and closed the book on Kentucky’s 2016 season.
Sunday marks the end of the most historic pitcher in Kentucky’s program history – and arguably the best player in UK history – in senior pitcher, Kelsey Nunley. The Soddy Daisy, Tenn., native did just about everything you could do on and off the field, including becoming the first-ever UK player to be named the Southeastern Conference’s Pitcher of the Year.