By Tyler Spanyer | @KernelSpanyer
A victory over Virginia Tech at the second attempt on Sunday saw No. 12 seed UK softball win the NCAA Tournament Lexington Regional.
UK (41-19, 13-11 SEC) defeated the Hokies, 1-0, after earlier falling to the same opponent, 2-0, to force a winner-takes-all regional final.
“I never like to have a plan B,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said, “But I’m glad I did today.”
The victory at John Cropp Stadium saw UK claim the second Super Regional berth in school history.
In game one, Virginia Tech (38-21, 9-11 ACC) pitcher Kelly Heinz kept the Cats scoreless in her complete game three-hit effort.
UK freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley allowed four of Virginia Tech’s seven lead-off batters to reach base safely.
Hokies center fielder Lauren Gaskill went 3-for-4, including two singles and a double.
In the fifth inning Nunley allowed a lead-off single; a sacrifice bunt moved the runner into scoring position before Gaskill ripped a double into the gap scoring the first run of the game.
Nunley then hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch before walking in the second run of the game.
UK left six runners on base in the game and could not get anything going against Heinz.
“I think I pitched alright,” Nunley said, before junior infielder/pitcher Lauren Cumbess chimed in.
“You pitched well enough to win we just didn’t get runs for you,” Cumbess said.
Cumbess started her first career NCAA Tournament game in the second game and took a no-hitter into the third inning before loading the bases with two outs.
Nunley took over pitching duties and, with two of the 368 pitches thrown by her during the regional, got out of the jam to keep the Hokies scoreless.
“I knew we needed an out,” Nunley said, “And that’s all I was thinking about when I came in.”
In the top of the fifth inning a Virginia Tech error allowed freshman center fielder Sylver Samuel to reach first.
Senior infielder Kara Dill and sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner used sacrifice hits to advance Samuel to third.
Cumbess then came up and smacked a hard liner down the first base line that went in and out of the first basemen’s glove, allowing Samuel to score the go-ahead run.
“Samuel has really developed a lot this season,” Lawson said. “With her and Kara (Dill) in the lineup, we have that balance we need to compete.”
In the sixth inning the Cats used a 6-4-3 double play to turn the momentum in their favor heading into the final frame.
In that final frame Nunley struck-out out the first batter and got two pop-ups to end the game and book a date with No. 5 seed Arizona State in the Super Regionals.
The win was the Cats’ 42nd of the season – a new school record.
Lawson, with tears in her eyes, spoke of her appreciation to UK Athletics for the support the softball team has received, including the building of a new stadium.
“The Athletic Department has put so much money into this facility,” Lawson said with tears in her eyes. “Most programs put stadiums up because they have to, but UK puts stadiums up because they want to.”
The Cats will travel to Tempe, Ariz. to take on the Sun Devils in a best-of-three series in a Super Regional clash.
Arizona State won their regional tournament with an unblemished record.
Game one of the series will be played at the Sun Devils’ Farrington Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN2, with ESPN televising game two at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
In the event of a deciding game being needed, it will begin no earlier than 5 p.m. on Sunday with the game being broadcast on ESPN2.