College softball: Cats blow lead, then blow out Cardinals 7-3

mmaloney@herald-leader.comApril 30, 2014 

UK head softball coach Rachel Lawson at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, March 30, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins

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LOUISVILLE — Having blown a two-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, Kentucky erupted for four runs in the eighth Wednesday en route to a 7-3 victory over archrival Louisville.

The 10th-ranked Wildcats (41-11) won at U of L for the first time since 2006, completing UK's first season sweep of the Cardinals since 2003. UK won 5-0 at home on April 2.

The win was the first at U of L for head coach Rachel Lawson, a fact not lost on second baseman Krystal Smith.

"I feel like this program has built into a program where we keep doing things that we've never done before," Smith said. "So going into that big inning we knew that 'this was it,' and we've got to attack and we've got to stay in the game and we've got to win the game."

Smith got the rally started with a base hit. A sacrifice bunt, Maisie Steed's infield single — with Smith holding at second — and Griffin Joiner's single loaded the bases for slapper Sylver Samuel.

Samuel hit a high chopper to third base, and Smith slid in safely ahead of the throw to the plate. "All I was thinking was I've got to take off full-speed and I've got to slide hard," Smith said, "and that's what I tried to do to make our team get over the hump."

Nikki Sagermann followed with a two-run double down the right-field line.

"I was just really trying to 'stay short' to it because, in the beginning of the game, obviously, I wasn't hitting the way that I wanted to," Sagermann said. "So last at bat, with the bases loaded, I really just wanted to put the ball in play hard, and it came out the way that I wanted it to."

Samuel scored on Emily Gaines' groundout.

"Unfortunately for us in the eighth, we didn't play defense like we needed to," U of L Coach Sandy Pearsall said. "If we'd played defense, we might still be playing the game."

Kelsey Nunley, who served up a pair of seventh-inning homers, set U of L down in order in the eighth.

"We've been relying on Nunley all year and for her to be able to give up two home runs, that can definitely take the wind out of your sails," Lawson said. "But luckily we had a a lot of great performacnes in the box in the last inning. We made some good adjustments—adjustments we hadn't made in the previous six innings."

Said Pearsall: "Definitely Kentucky has a great team this year. They're a very confident team, and that's probably not what our forte' is right now. We've been kind of up and down, and I don't think we have the same confidence level, so that makes it a struggle for us."

The Cardinals (31-19), who had won 10 in a row at home, got off to a great start as Kelsi Jones led off the first inning with her team-leading 10th homer of the season.

A double, an error and a walk loaded the bases with two outs, but Meagan Prince induced a groundout.

"To be able to get out of that with one run, I felt pretty lucky," Lawson said. "I was a little worried they were going to put up a couple crooked numbers in that first inning, and I wasn't about to pull my freshman out in her first time at Louisville."

UK responded with a pair of long balls in the second.

Lauren Cumbess led off the inning with a single, and pinch-runner Darington Richardson stole second.

Christian Stokes brought her home with a home run to straightaway center.

Two outs later, No. 9 hitter Steed homered to nearly the same spot, clearing the 220-foot sign in center.

Jones led off the bottom of the seventh with her 11th homer of the season.

Nunley retired the next two batters but, on a full-count pitch, yielded a line-drive home run to right off the bat of Brittany Duncan.

"I had confidence in our offense," Sagermann said. "I knew Kelsey was bummed about it. But honestly I knew we were going to come back and get it back because we really wanted to win this game."

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

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