By Josh Huff
A tale of two games summarized the final day of the Lexington Regional as UK softball rebounded from an extra-inning loss to crush DePaul 10-1 in the decisive game seven.
The victory sends No. 14 UK to a Super Regional showdown on Saturday against No. 3 UCLA in Los Angeles, Ca., and ends the season for the DePaul Blue Demons.
UK’s offense made a rare appearance in game seven. Held to just two hits in game six by DePaul’s senior pitcher Kirsten Verdun, the Cats responded with aggressive at-bats in route to a four hit, six run second inning that blew the game open.
“I think out hitters decided to put the team on their back and go out there and score runs,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. “I think the mindset of the team offensively was that we needed to get this done.”
The Cats wasted no time scoring as sophomore Sylver Samuel turned a routine grounder up the middle into an in-the-park-home run in the first inning. The aggressive base running set the tone in UK’s redemption victory over DePaul.
“Offensively we had been up and down,” Samuel said. “The second game we were just trying to get something started. Basically I saw a lot of holes and a lot of people had shifted and I just wanted to get something started.”
DePaul entered the day one loss away from an early summer and showed that fight in their one run victory over the Cats in game six. The game turned out to be a classic pitcher’s duel between Verdun and UK’s Kelsey Nunley. Both pitchers threw a complete 10 inning game, striking out a combined 20 and giving up only seven hits as DePaul won a thriller 2-1.
DePaul’s ship sprung leaks in game seven. Verdun, who allowed only two hits in game six, lasted just two innings, giving up seven runs on five hits.
“I thought that her power pitches had slowed down a little bit,” Lawson said. “I think that had an impact. Also that was her fifth game in a row.”
Her replacement, senior Hannah Penna fared no better. The Cats used a single and a walk to set up a steal by senior Emily Gaines that resulted in an errant throw to third by DePaul catcher Staci Bonezek. The error scored two more runs, but the inning was not over. A wild pitch by Penna allowed senior Krystal Smith to score from third and gave UK a 10-1 advantage.
Despite three errors, the Cats managed to hold the Blue Demons to one run. Much of that was because of Nunley, who pitched every inning for the Cats during the Lexington Regional. Nunley struck out two and held DePaul to five hits.
The Blue Demons were never able to recover from the early deficit and fell victim to the mercy rule in the fifth inning.
“I just want to congratulate everyone for being in the championship,” Lawson said. “I thought all four teams played really well. I thought it was a great regional from the standpoint all the teams had won their conference. Overall I thought it was a great regional and obviously I’m happy to be out of it but I thought it was a great showing for us in the second game today and throughout the tournament.”