COLUMBIA, S.C. – The No. 15 University of Kentucky softball team received solo home runs in the seventh inning from sophomore infielder Nikki Sagermann and junior catcher Griffin Joiner, but could not overcome three errors in the first four innings, falling in it’s first-ever appearance in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship to No. 11 Georgia, 5-2, on Saturday night at the Carolina Softball Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
Kentucky (44-15) ends the tournament with the most wins in a single season in program history at 44, breaking the previous record of 41 wins set last season. The Wildcats have consecutive 40-win seasons for the first time in program history. Kentucky will now await an at-large selection into the NCAA Tournament with the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
Sagermann, along with fellow sophomores Kelsey Nunley and Christian Stokes were named to the SEC All-Tournament Team for their impressive performances throughout the week. Sagermann hit a home run Saturday and had the game-winning hit against Mississippi State in the opening round, while Stokes had two doubles and two homers in the tournament. Nunley won the first three games in the tournament with brilliant performances in the circle. The pitcher was 3-0 for the week, improving her career win total to 51.
Kentucky earned the No. 7 seed in the tournament with a 13-11 conference record, marking its fourth straight winning season in league action. Prior to seventh-year head coach Rachel Lawson taking over the program, UK had only posted a winning SEC record one time. The appearance in the four-day event is the sixth-consecutive for Kentucky and it’s eighth all-time. UK holds a 4-10 all-time record in the event.
The Wildcats started the tournament run with a 4-3 walk-off win over 10th seeded Mississippi State, who is receiving votes in the national rankings, on Wednesday in nine innings. UK took down No. 2 seed and top-10 ranked Tennessee on Thursday in the quarterfinal, clinching the Wildcats first appearance in the SEC Tournament semifinals in the event’s current format. The Wildcats punched their ticket to the championship game with a victory over No. 25 LSU in Friday’s semifinal.
The three wins in the tournament were over teams either raked or receiving votes in the national rankings. The Wildcats have 14 wins this season over teams either ranked or receiving votes at the time UK played them. In Lawson’s seven-year tenure, UK has defeated 51 ranked opponents.
Kentucky started freshman pitcher Meagan Prince in the circle, who went 3.2 innings, allowing four runs – one earned – on six hits with three strikeouts. Prince worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning with no outs, but could not work around a walk and an error to start the second inning with Georgia plating a run with two outs. The Bulldogs blew the game open in the fourth inning, getting three runs, including a two-run double from shortstop Paige Wilson. Senior pitcher Lauren Cumbess tossed the final 2.1 innings in the game, allowing a run on one hit with one strikeout.
Offensively, Kentucky got two solo home runs in the seventh inning to break up the shutout. The scoring started with a one-out home run from Sagermann to leftfield, taking her team-best total to 13 roundtrippers on the season. Joiner made it back-to-back homers when she launched her ninth of the season into left-centerfield. Sagermann finished the game 2-for-3, while Joiner was 1-for-3 to complete the hitting for Kentucky.
Georgia pitched sophomore ace Chelsea Wilkinson in the circle for the third consecutive day. Wilkinson, who had only allowed one run in 12.2 innings pitched in the tournament against two of the nation’s best offenses in Florida and Alabama, tossed seven innings against Kentucky allowing three hits and two runs scored. The home runs hit by Kentucky were the lone homers hit against Wilkinson – who was named the tournament’s most valuable player – all week.