LEXINGTON, Ky. – After dropping game one of the day that forced a winner-take-all regional final, the University of Kentucky softball team got three-plus strong innings of work from junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess in the circle, who also delivered the game-winning RBI single, while freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley shut the door in the final 3.1 innings, lifting UK to a 1-0 victory over Virginia Tech on Sunday at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky (41-19) now advances to a NCAA Super Regional for only the second time in school history. The Wildcats will face the winner of the NCAA Tempe Regional between Arizona State and Southeastern Conference foe Georgia. The Super Regional will be a best-of-three game series. More information will be available Monday morning on UKathletics.com.
The win for Kentucky in game two was its 41st of the season, setting a new school record for wins in a single season. The 2011 squad, which advanced to the school’s first ever Super Regional, had 40 wins. Sunday marked the third time UK has played in a regional final, now holding a 2-2 record in those games. Kentucky is 11-9 all-time in its five NCAA appearances with all five berths coming under sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson.
Cumbess was the do-it-all star for Kentucky in the final game of the weekend, throwing 3.2 strong innings in the circle and delivering a game-winning RBI single in the fifth inning to propel UK to victory. The junior two-way player allowed only two hits in the game – both in the fourth inning – before leaving the fourth inning with the bases loaded and two outs. Nunley came in and kept the Virginia Tech bats quiet the rest of the way, getting out of the jam in the fourth and throwing the final three innings, allowing only three hits with two strikeouts.
“When I was preparing for Virginia Tech earlier in the week, I actually thought Lauren (Cumbess) was the exact matchup for them,” Lawson said. “Lauren has such a good drop ball and Virginia Tech is such a good hitting team. I wanted to keep the ball in the infield, so I actually had thought about starting her in the first place. But, when you are the head coach at Kentucky and you have a 27-game winner, and I start the one who doesn’t have 27, I am going to have my head on a platter if I am wrong. I have a lot of faith in both of them. I felt good about Lauren coming in. To be honest with you, I pulled Lauren aside before today and I said, ‘If this goes into two games, you are starting the second game and it is your job to come in and shut the door.’ So, whereas she just thinks she was giving (Kelsey) Nunley a rest, that was actually plan B. I don’t like to have plan B, but I always have plan B in case things don’t go our way. So, that was my plan going into the game. I didn’t tell anyone else that plan, but it seems like they were reading my mind I suppose.”
Cumbess did not earn a decision in the game, while Nunley picked up her 27th win of the season, moving her school-record win total to 27-9. Cumbess is still 10-7 on the year with a 3.88 ERA, striking out 82 in 110 innings pitched, while Nunley, who has thrown a school-record high 255.1 innings this season, has a 1.97 ERA – which ranks second lowest in a single-season in school history. Nunley now has 190 strikeouts on the season, which ranks fifth most in school history. Nunley needs 10 more strikeouts to become only the second player in UK history to record 200-plus strikeouts in a single season.
Cumbess and Nunley received some fantastic efforts defensively in the second game to keep the Wildcats on top. On top of the Wildcat infield turning two double plays in the game, junior outfielder Ginny Carroll made a diving catch in the first inning to rob a Hokie player of a single, while freshman outfielder Sylver Samuel made a great catch up against the centerfield wall in the third inning to rob a Hokie player of a double. In the fourth inning, freshman infielder Christian Stokes made a diving catch in shallow leftfield to take away a single.
“Our defense was huge,” Lawson said. “I thought Christian Stokes’ play when she dove and got the play behind her was big. In game one, we didn’t make that catch, and that’s why they scored two runs. So, the fact that she made that catch and really stepped up on her birthday was cool. I think the fact that Griffin Joiner did such a good job behind the plate (catch every game in the tournament) was awesome. She did a really good job. I think, too, Silver Samuel made a big catch at the wall. I always tell the team that you never know when the game-winning play is going to happen. I believe those were the game-winning plays. And then Nunley coming in and closing the door – being able to come in with the bases loaded and jamming them in and being able to get them to popup was huge.”
Offensively, Kentucky had eight hits in the game, getting multi-hit games from Carroll and Stokes, who each went 2-for-3. Senior infielder Kara Dill, sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner and Samuel each had singles, while Samuel scored the game’s only run on the RBI single by Cumbess.
Virginia Tech (38-21) started pitcher Jasmin Harrell in the game, who went seven innings, allowing only one unearned run on eight hits with two strikeouts. Harrell, who threw all 13 innings against Marshall on Saturday night to get Virginia Tech into the regional final, picked up the tough-luck loss, moving to 18-9 on the season.
The Hokies earned five hits the game, getting a multi-hit day from Baily Liddle, who went 2-for-3, while Dani Anderson, Courtney Liddle and Bkaye Smith each had singles.
Kentucky scored its lone run of the game in the fifth inning, moving to 26-5 this season when it scores first in the game. Samuel started the rally by reaching on an error by the second baseman, moving to second on Dill’s groundout. After Joiner flied out to deep leftfield to move Samuel to third, Cumbess hit a laser at the first baseman that deflected off the edge of her glove and rolled into foul territory for a single, scoring Samuel.
Virginia Tech forced the seventh game of the regional with an impressive performance in the first game of the day, taking down the Wildcats 2-0 behind a strong pitching effort from Kelly Heinz. The Hokie hurler threw a complete game in the contest, allowing only three hits with three strikeouts, besting Nunley, who started for UK in game one, allowing two earned runs on six hits with three strikeouts.