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By Tyler Spanyer | @KernelSpanyer
After a three and a half hour rain delay and a two and half hour wait while Alabama defeated Texas A&M, UK softball got down to business at 10:30 p.m., four hours after the scheduled start time.
The Cats’ hopes of a Cinderella run at John Cropp Stadium ran out at midnight as No. 10 seed South Carolina beat the No. 7 seeded Cats, 6-3, to advance to the second round of the SEC Tournament.
“I think they had a good game plan,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said of South Carolina. “We just couldn’t get our bats going.”
USC sophomore pitcher Julie Sarratt went the full distance allowing three runs on five hits, retiring 12 straight UK batters at one point.
“The whole mentality of the game was to keep them off balance,” Sarratt said. “Coach calling pitches, and seeing what their tendencies were. I think we did a really nice job of keeping them off balance.”
UK freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley began the game by allowing one hit in two innings, but in the third inning the Gamecocks scored four runs on three singles and an error by sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner.
After walking the lead-off batter, Nunley left some breaking balls up in the zone which led to the three RBI singles.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable with myself,” said Nunley. “ I don’t know that it was nerves but I just wasn’t feeling it.”
After the third Nunley retired eight straight, but the damage had been done and run support was hard to come by.
The Cats got on the board first in the second inning on a play that included a fielding and throwing error.
Senior infielder Kara Dill hit a sharp grounder to the second baseman who bobbled the ball before throwing home.
South Carolina senior catcher Shelby Gonzales tried to gun down senior outfielder Alice O’Brien at third but threw the ball into the outfield, allowing O’Brien to score.
“Their pitcher (Sarratt) played really well,” Lawson said. “She mixed three speeds and I don’t think we were prepared for that. I thought she did a great job of keeping us off-balance.”
In the sixth, USC added to their lead after junior outfielder Chelsea Hawkins hit a deep two-run blast over the left field fence, increasing the Gamecocks lead to 6-1.
After silent fifth and sixth innings the Cats came alive in the seventh thanks to O’Brien’s two-run bomb to center field.
O’Brien held her pose after making contact, reminiscent of a Barry Bonds home run celebration.
UK made things interesting by putting pressure on the Gamecocks but Sarratt calmed down to secure the win, and a place in round two, for USC.
South Carolina will face No. 2 seed Tennesse in the second-round at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, one of four games taking place Thursday at John Cropp Stadium
With hopes of SEC Tournament glory on their home field now gone, the Cats will now await Sunday’s NCAA Tournament selection show to learn their postseason fate.
The NCAA tournament field will be announced on Sunday at noon on ESPNU.