Cats propel to the brink of Super Regionals after 6th inning rally

By Joshua Huff

James Madison sophomore pitcher Jailyn Ford mystified UK softball for five innings but the Cats adjusted and scored two runs in the sixth inning to defeat the Dukes 2-1 in a thrilling come-from-behind victory Saturday.

The win snapped a 16-game winning streak by James Madison and propelled UK into Sunday with two victories and no loses in the double-elimination Lexington Regional.

Ford took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before the cracks started to show and the momentum began to swing the Cats way.

The Bucks jumped on the Cats early in the second when senior Caitlin Sandy launched a missile over the center field wall. The home run gave the Dukes a 1-0 advantage and disrupted UK sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley’s rhythm. The run was the first allowed by Nunley in the tournament.

“I thought today was a tough game for us,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. “Kelsey did a great job, especially when they hit that home run. The girl crushed it and that really changed the momentum. The crowd went crazy and it really showed JMU belonged here.”

Up until the fifth inning, the Cats failed to earn a hit or a walk after the first inning. Ford found her rhythm en route to retiring 13 in a row.

The Dukes threatened again in the fourth after Nunley gave up a single and hit a batter, but she bared down and chalked up a crucial two out strikeout to senior Cassidy Clayton.

The Cats broke up the no-hit bid by Ford in the bottom of the fifth after they placed runners on second and third after senior Emily Jolly hit a two-out double to put runners in scoring position. With two outs and the crowd roaring, senior Krystal Smith faced Ford and battled her way to a full count. But with a chance to tie the game, Smith struck out swinging to end the threat.

After Nunley held JMU to a single in the sixth inning, the Cats, propelled by the crowd, mounted a fierce rally in the bottom of the inning. With one out, sophomore Sylver Samuel singled up the middle setting up third baseman Nikki Sagermann, who was hitless to this point.

Without a hit and the game on the line, Sagermann shook off her struggles and belted a clutch double into centerfield scoring Samuel from second. The next batter, junior catcher Griffin Joiner, was also hitless. Facing a fading Ford, Joiner hit the game-winning double, scoring Sagermann and giving UK the 2-1 advantage and the eventual victory.

“It was only a one-run ballgame,” Sagermann said. “ So we knew that one swing could change to entire ballgame.”

UK heads into Sunday without the pressure of losing a game and will not have to win out to win the regional.

“It’s definitely good because we get to rest for the rest of the day,” Joiner said. “We can come out fresh tomorrow while the other teams battle each other.”