NCAA softball: UK survives against Ohio ace Dorsey in 2-0 win

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMay 16, 2014 

  • NCAA Softball Regional

    At UK's John Cropp Stadium

    Friday

    Game 1: James Madison 6, DePaul 1

    Game 2: Kentucky 2, Ohio 0

    Saturday

    Game 3: James Madison vs. Kentucky, 1 p.m.

    Game 4: DePaul vs. Ohio, 3:30 p.m.

    Game 5: Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 6 p.m.

    Sunday

    Game 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5, 1 p.m.

    Game 7: If necessary, 3:30 p.m.

Kentucky's Lauren Cumbess made it look easy in the second inning, her solo home run sailing effortlessly over the right field wall in a chilly May wind.

But against Ohio University ace Savannah Jo Dorsey in the NCAA Tournament softball regional at John Cropp Stadium, the chill really set in for Kentucky.

It took the Wildcats a few more innings to get warm again and advance with a 2-0 win over the Bobcats on Friday night.

Cumbess was responsible for UK's other run, too, when her sacrifice RBI to right field sent in pinch runner Maisie Steed in the sixth inning to secure the win in a pitcher's duel.

So what was the magic formula to hit Dorsey, who is fifth in the nation in strikeouts this season and came into the NCAA Tournament pitching four complete games with three shutouts, including a perfect game in the Mid-American Conference Tournament?

"No secret," Cumbess said. "It was just all about right place at the right time."

Whatever it was, it was just what UK (44-15) needed to advance to the next round of the double-elimination tournament. The host Cats advance to face James Madison at 1 p.m. Saturday, which will be followed by Ohio versus DePaul in the second game.

Getting a first-round win, especially against Dorsey, whom UK Coach Rachel Lawson called "outstanding" and "as good as any pitcher we've seen all year," was big.

"It's important that you always get the first win of the tournament, that way you can kind of kick the tires a little bit, get a little bit looser," Lawson said. "It helps your pitching, helps your defense relax a little bit and helps the girls sleep a little bit better."

The lead helped UK do all of the above (except the sleeping part).

After struggling with control for a bit in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, the Cats' ace was sharp. Kelsey Nunley (25-7) pitched seven complete scoreless innings for her seventh shutout of the year, giving up four hits, fanning nine en route to the win over the Bobcats (32-25).

"There wasn't one pitch we kept coming back to over and over and over and over," Lawson said of Nunley. "She gave them a good mix. ... She was able to attack each batter individually."

The defense did its part, too, especially shortstop Christian Stokes, who had several acrobatic plays for the error-free Cats.

"Christian Stokes was outstanding," Lawson said. "She had so many tremendous plays at shortstop. ... She was tremendous defensively and our team kind of goes how Christian goes."

Ohio, making its first tournament appearance in 19 years and just its second in program history, is hoping to be more aggressive at the plate in this next game on Saturday.

"We cut ourselves an inning and a half short there, some opportunities offensively there where we could've applied more pressure," Coach Jodi Hermanek said.

Game 1: James Madison drops DePaul 6-1

James Madison fell behind early but didn't stay down long, topping DePaul 6-1 in the first game.

A Jailyn Ford go-ahead single to shallow left field broke open a 1-1 tie game in the third inning. DePaul lefthander Kirsten Verdun (30-6) gave up back-to-back bases-loaded walks to make it 4-1 an inning later. Taylor Newton made it seem all but over in the fifth with her solo home run to left field. Erica Prince knocked in another insurance run in the sixth.

Ford (24-6) pitched seven innings, giving up one run on six hits for James Madison, champions of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and regular season. The Dukes have won 16 straight.

'Riding on a high'

Forgive Ohio Coach Hermanek if this NCAA Tournament trip — just the second in school history — is all a blur.

A little less than three weeks ago, Hermanek gave birth to her first child, Emma Fay Horton, who was at the game and staying warm in the suite area with dad David Horton on Friday.

When asked how little sleep she's getting, the Ohio coach smiled.

"It's just not something I've been paying attention to, I've just been riding on a high," said Hermanek, sporting a camouflage Ohio U baseball cap.

"These girls motivate and inspire me and my baby obviously is the highlight of my life right now. So I'm just really enjoying every moment. They make it a lot of fun to make it through all of this, through something I'm never going to have again in my life: a baby and post-season tournament at the same time. I'm just embracing every moment as they give it to me."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader.

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