LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley threw seven strong innings, allowing only one hit and no earned runs, while junior infielder Krystal Smith went 2-for-3 at the plate with a home run and two RBI, as the No. 12 Kentucky softball team posted its school-record tying 40th win of the season and clinched its ticket to the NCAA Lexington Regional Finals on Sunday with a 6-2 win over Virginia Tech at John Cropp Stadium.
Kentucky (40-18) now advances to the regional finals on Sunday against either Notre Dame, Virginia Tech or Marshall depending on results from the rest of day two action from the Lexington Regional. The regional final will begin Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. If UK drops the first game of the regional final, a winner-take-all game two will be played at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The win for Kentucky was its 40th of the season, tying the school record for most wins in a season. Head coach Rachel Lawson’s 2011 team also had 40 wins en route to advancing to the school’s first ever Super Regional. UK’s win against Virginia Tech was its first in school history over the Hokies in three tries.
This is the third time UK has advanced to a regional final, also accomplishing the feat in 2009 and 2011. The Wildcats lost the first game of the 2009 regional final to Ohio State while it defeated Michigan in game one of the Ann Arbor Regional Final in 2011. The Wildcats are now 10-8 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
Nunley was fantastic in the circle for the second straight game, throwing a complete-game one-hitter, allowing two runs – both unearned – with five strikeouts. For the season, Nunley is now 26-8 with a 2.00 ERA, striking out 185 in 245.1 innings pitched. So far this weekend, Nunley is an impressive 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA, striking out 10 batters in 15 innings pitched while opponents are hitting just .140 against her.
Offensively, Kentucky was paced by Smith and fellow junior first baseman Lauren Cumbess. Smith went 2-for-3 in the game with her third home run of the season and two RBI, while Cumbess blasted her team-best 12th home run of the season to finish 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. Freshman outfielder Sylver Samuel was 2-for-3 in the game with a run scored, while sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner was 1-for-3 with a run scored.
Virginia Tech posted two runs in the second inning on one hit and a Kentucky error. Bkaye Smith delivered the two-RBI infield single to tie the game before Nunley retired 16 of the last 17 batters she faced to seal the UK win.
The Hokies started Kelly Heinz in the game, who went 3.1 innings, allowing four runs – three earned – on four hits with four strikeouts. She was relieved in the fourth inning by Maggie Tyler, who worked one inning, allowing two runs – one earned – on two hits with one strikeout. Jasmin Harrell threw the final 2.2 innings of work, allowing no runs on one hit.
Kentucky scored first in the game posting two runs on two hits in the opening inning. After Joiner set the table with a one-out walk, Cumbess stepped to the plate and hit a high-towering fly to leftfield that cleared the fence to give UK a 2-0 lead. Heinz then got a lineout and strikeout to end the inning.
Virginia Tech tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the second inning after starting the frame with two runners on base on a walk and a UK error. Nunley got a strikeout and a groundout for two outs before a hard-hit chopper took a bad bounce away from a UK infielder to score two runs and tie the game 2-2.
UK answered to take the lead back in the third inning on an infield single and two Virginia Tech errors. Samuel started the rally with an infield single back to the pitcher, stealing second and moving to third on a throwing error by the catcher. Dill then hit a soft liner to the Virginia Tech third baseman that went off the infielder’s glove, scoring Samuel to give UK a 3-2 lead.
The Wildcats scored three more runs over the next two innings to take a 6-2 lead and seal the Kentucky victory. UK posted its fourth run on the home run by Smith, who laced a one-out solo shot to leftfield. Smith was also responsible for UK’s two runs in the fifth inning, getting an RBI single to the leftside of the infield with the bases loaded that scored two runs when the shortstop’s throw went wide.