LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ninth-seeded Kentucky used two-out rallies in the top of the seventh and eighth innings to power past the Illinois Fighting Illini and extend its season in its third game of the day on Elimination Saturday of the NCAA Softball Championships.
Kentucky, having already suffered a loss earlier in the day to Utah in the winner’s bracket game, found itself trailing 2-1 going into the top of the seventh inning and its season three outs from closing. Senior Christian Stokes led off the inning with a single to the left side, and with two outs, was brought home on an RBI single into center by freshman Katie Reed to tie the game.
After senior pitcher Kelsey Nunley closed the door on Illinois in the bottom of the seventh, Abbey Cheek led off the top of the eighth inning with a single up the middle and into center. UK then put two aboard with no outs as Cheek was ruled safe at second on an attempted bunt by freshman Jenny Schaper and the Wildcats had a rally going. After a hard-luck lineout double play by Brooklin Hinz right back to the pitcher recorded Illinois’ first two outs of the inning, Stokes stepped up and launched an RBI double off the wall in right field to score the game-winning run.
Nunley then allowed a lead-off single, but nothing more in the bottom of the eighth, and Kentucky booked its improbable spot in the NCAA’s Lexington Regional on Sunday afternoon at John Cropp Stadium.
Kentucky will face Utah on Sunday in the regional final, needing to beat the Utes two times to advance into the Super Regional round since Utah is 2-0 and Kentucky is 2-1 in the double-elimination tournament.
Both games (if necessary) will be shown live on ESPN3 with Dave Baker and Ginny Carroll on the call as well as the WatchESPN app and ESPN3. Select parts of the game will air on ESPN’s ‘Bases Loaded’ coverage throughout the day on multiple ESPN platforms.
Five. The number of hits that Kentucky’s senior class had in the game on Saturday night under the lights at John Cropp Stadium. Stokes led all players with three hits in the game, going 3-for-3, with Sylver Samuel and Nikki Sagermann each notching one base hit in the game.
Katie Reed’s two-out RBI single into shallow center was the key play in the game, extending Kentucky’s season into extra innings and allowing the Wildcats to win it in the eighth.
Kelsey Nunley was the key player in the game, throwing 7.1 innings of scoreless softball only allowing three hits to the 26 batters she faced, walking one and striking out nine. Nunley came on in the bottom of the first inning and threw the rest of the game on 102 pitches, with 74 of them recorded as strikes.
Illinois scored two in the first inning off of junior pitcher Meagan Prince. The Illini got a lead-off double from Allie Bauch, who came around to score on an RBI single from right fielder Nicole Evans. With the bases loaded, Emily Brodner walked to score the only other Illini run of the game. ILL 2, UK 0
Kentucky would score its first run of the game on a two-out RBI in the top of the fourth inning on a single by Christian Stokes to score Schaper, who led off the inning with a single. ILL 2, UK 1
In the seventh, down 2-1, Stokes led off the inning with a single to the left side. Reed then singled into center to score Stokes and tie the game in the top of the seventh at two. UK 2, ILL 2
In the top of the eighth, Kentucky would score the game-winning run after Abbey Cheek led off the inning with a single up the middle to put the lead-off batter aboard. After UK put Schaper on board after a failed fielder’s choice, Hinz lined into a double play to put two outs on the board with Cheek at second. Stokes then rifled a ball to right to score Cheek and give Kentucky the game-winner. FINAL – (9) Kentucky 3, Illinois 2
2016 Lexington Regional | Tourney Central
John Cropp Stadium (1,500)
Friday, May 20
Game 1: Utah def. Illinois, 1-0
Saturday, May 21
Game 2: Kentucky def. Butler, 6-1
Game 3: Utah def. Kentucky, 3-0
Game 4: Illinois def. Butler, 2-1 (8) [Butler eliminated]
Game 5: Kentucky def. Illinois, 3-2 (8) [Illinois eliminated]
Sunday, May 22
Game 6: Utah vs. (9) Kentucky – 1pm ET [ESPN3, WatchESPN app, ESPNU Bases Loaded]
Game 7 (if necessary) – Same teams – 3:30 p.m. ET [ESPN3, WatchESPN app, ESPNU Bases Loaded] *
*Winner to Super Regional round May 26-29 on select campus sites