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By Joshua Huff
Sophomore Kelsey Nunley pitched a gem Friday in guiding UK softball to a 2-0 victory over Ohio in UK’s first game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
No. 14 UK (45-15) kicked off its sixth NCAA Tournament appearance with a shutout victory over the Bobcats on a chilly spring evening at John Cropp Stadium. Ohio struggled to find any offensive rhythm against Nunley, who held the Bobcats to four hits in seven dominant innings of work.
“I think Kelsey (Nunley) did a good job,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. “She used a lot of different pitches. There wasn’t one pitch we kept on coming back to. She gave them a good mix. She was able to attack each batter individually and that said a lot about her command in the zone.”
Stellar defense highlighted a three-up-three-down second inning as the Cats held the Bobcats to no hits after a double play off an Alexandria Basquez grounder to short. Sophomore shortstop Christian Stokes capped the inning off with a spectacular diving stop off a sharply hit grounder by Ohio freshman Madison Clayton.
“The key today was I thought Stokes was outstanding,” Lawson said. “She had so many outstanding plays at shortstop. I feel like our team goes how Christian goes. The fact that she had such a good night really set the tone for our defense and was why we were able to keep the runs down.”
The Cats rode that momentum into the bottom of the second, when senior first baseman Lauren Cumbess hit a lead-off home run over the right field wall. The Bobcats attempted a rally in the third inning but could not take advantage with runners on first and second base with one out. Nunley struck out freshman Taylor Saxton and freshman Casie Hutchinson grounded out to end the inning.
UK had an opportunity to add to their lead in the fifth inning but failed to take advantage of a bases loaded, one out situation after junior catcher Griffin Joiner grounded out to end the inning. Both Joiner and sophomore third baseman Nikki Sagermann had opportunities to drive in a run but failed to hit the ball out of the infield.
The Cats scored an insurance run in the sixth inning after a Cumbess sacrifice fly to right field drove in sophomore Maisie Steed from third. Steed set the play in motion after a heads-up steal from second when she faked out the shortstop with a fake back to second base before she bolted for third.
Nunley (25-7) though, was the story of the night. She locked the door on the Bobcats offense. From the fifth inning on, she struck out six and allowed only two hits. She ended the game with nine strikeouts overall.
“The more I pitched the looser I got,” Nunley said. “We knew they learned each at bat and the next time they came up we gave them a different look.”
The Cats will face James Madison Saturday at 1 p.m. In Game 1 of the Lexington Regional, James Madison defeated DePaul, who will face Ohio in Game 4 tomorrow at 3:30 p.m.