Kentucky softball continued its best season in the program history Sunday, defeating highly ranked and NCAA Super Regional host UCLA twice to give the Cats their first-ever berth in the Women's College World Series.
UK sophomore Kelsey Nunley pitched two complete games, while the UK offense exploded for 14 runs in the doubleheader as No. 14 Kentucky toppled the No. 3 Bruins 7-3 in the win-or-go home game two and 7-1 in the series clincher.
The Cats (49-17) will face Louisiana-Lafayette (49-8-1) in its World Series opener Thursday in Oklahoma City. Top-seeded Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida State, Florida and Baylor also advanced. The World Series is double elimination in bracket play before a best-of-three series for the championship.
"This is a special day for us," UK Coach Rachel Lawson said. "This particular senior class, this is our third Super Regional, so we've been close enough to taste it, but for it to actually be a reality is very special."
Nunley starred again for the Cats tossing 14 innings, allowing four runs on 11 hits with five strikeouts. The Soddy Daisy, Tenn., native moved to 29-9 on the season, breaking her own school record for wins in a season. She has 202 strikeouts this season, becoming the second player in program history to post 200-plus strikeouts in a season.
Nunley has thrown every pitch for Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, posting a 5-2 record and a 0.87 ERA in 481⁄3 innings pitched.
Offensively, sophomore infielder Nikki Sagermann led the way for the Cats, going 4-for-6 combined with two RBI, while junior catcher Griffin Joiner was 3-for-6 on the day with two RBI. Senior infielder Krystal Smith was 2-for-5 with two doubles and four RBI.
Facing elimination in Sunday's game two, UK seized the momentum in the bottom of the first, scoring five runs and setting the tone for the day.
The rally started with a leadoff walk to sophomore Christian Stokes, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by outfielder Sylver Samuel and came home to score on Sagermann's single up the middle. Joiner followed with a single and senior Emily Gaines reached on catcher's interference to load the bases for senior Lauren Cumbess, who singled down the leftfield line to score two more UK runners. Smith followed with a double off the wall in leftfield to score two runners and put Kentucky up 5-1.
"I've always thought we are a really tough team, and it's shown throughout our season that we don't give up, we're always fighting back," Cumbess said later.
The Cats had two three-run rallies in the decisive final game to seal the WCWS berth. After UCLA (52-8) tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the third inning, UK scored three runs in the fourth. Gaines started the inning with a single to rightfield, moving to second when Cumbess singled through the left side. Smith answered again with a double down the left field line, scoring a run and putting two runners in scoring position with one out. After a groundout, Carroll hit an infield single the took a crazy hop away from the first baseman and scored two to put UK up 4-1.
UK added three insurance runs in the top of the seventh, getting a bases loaded walk to Sagermann and a two-run single by Joiner.