College softball: Nunley pitches UK past Auburn to salvage third game in series

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2014 

  • NEXT GAME

    Louisville at Kentucky

    When: 6 p.m. Wednesday

    TV: FS South

After her team lost the first two games of a three-game Southeastern Conference softball series to Auburn, Kelsey Nunley came to the rescue for Kentucky.

Nunley's complete-game, five-hitter Sunday carried the No. 10 Wildcats to a 2-1 victory, avoiding a doubleheader and series sweep. The right-hander tied her career high by striking out 11.

"Not really," Nunley said when asked if she felt pressure. "We'd already kind of lost the series, so we might as well just go out and play like we know we can and that's what we did."

No. 21 Auburn won the day's opener at John Cropp Stadium, 6-4, sparked by Jade Rhodes' grand-slam home run. The Tigers scored their first road-series win ever over a top 10 team.

Between games, Coach Rachel Lawson had a simple message for her Wildcats (28-7, 5-4 SEC).

"All I talked about was making sure they worked for their count," Lawson said. "I thought in game one (Lexi) Davis did a good job of keeping us off balance, and I thought we were swinging at a lot of pitches in hitters' counts, so I thought we did a poor job with that. ... I thought we were a little reactive in game one, and I told them to be more aggressive and proactive in game two."

Auburn (31-6-1, 6-3) took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, when there was an argument that lasted about 10 minutes.

The hubbub, after two pitches, came about because catcher Griffin Joiner had not been re-entered into the lineup after having been taken out for a pinch runner.

Auburn Coach Clint Myers, who notified plate umpire Shelley Mangrum, argued that Joiner was an illegal player and should be automatically ejected. After consulting a rule book and speaking by phone with an NCAA rules official, the umpires ruled Joiner an unreported player. The penalty for an unreported player is to wipe out the previous pitch.

The batter, Tiffany Howard, drew a walk, took second on a one-out single and scored on Branndi Melero's two-out single.

UK finally got to Auburn righty Marcy Harper (14-1) in the bottom of the sixth.

Sylver Samuel led off with a bunt single and Emily Gaines walked. One out later, Joiner singled up the middle to load the bases.

Samuel scored when Maisie Steed flared a single just over the head of second baseman Emily Carosone.

Pinch-hitter Ansley Smith drew a walk on a full count to force Gaines home.

Auburn made things interesting in the seventh.

With one out, Carosone laced her third hit of the game, a double to left. She took third on a groundout.

Kasey Cooper drew a walk, and Melero was issued an intentional pass to load the bases.

"That girl, she has about fifty-something RBIs and she's leading the SEC in RBIs," said Nunley (12-3). "So it's better to be safe than sorry and put her on and get another one out."

Nunley induced Rhodes to hit a game-ending popup to shortstop.

"Nunley had a great day today," Lawson said. "She did an awesome job keeping them off-balance. That's probably the hardest I've seen her throw all year."

In the opener, UK suffered a blow in the bottom of the first, Starting pitcher Lauren Cumbess singled, but injured her right ankle in a collision at first base.

"I was just thankful that we don't believe it's broken," Lawson said. "... Hopefully, she'll be out for a couple of days and not for the long term."

Meagan Prince took over pitching duties.

In the third, two walks and an error filled the bases for Rhodes, daughter of former Major League pitcher Arthur Rhodes. She parked a grand slam to center field.

The Tigers added two in the sixth on RBI singles by Cooper and Anna Gibbs.

UK averted a shutout with a four-run sixth. Gaines singled in two runs, then scored on Nikki Sagermann's two-run homer to left-center.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.

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