As the No. 2 seed in the Southeastern Conference Softball Tournament, the University of Kentucky knew two things:
1. A second-place regular-season finish in the nation’s toughest softball conference stands as a proud achievement.
2. The nation’s toughest softball conference is a dangerous world.
The 11th-ranked Wildcats’ reward for their stellar regular season was a quarterfinal matchup with No. 12 LSU on Thursday, and Kentucky went down, and out, 3-1 in its opening game at Starkville, Miss.
No. 7 seed LSU is heading to the semifinals after its first win against Kentucky this season in four tries.
LSU sophomore pitcher Carley Hoover (17-7) led the Tigers with efficient pitching, allowing only three hits and one run across 99 pitches in a complete game. Hoover improved to 6-1 in her last eight starts and has allowed only six hits in 21 innings.
“She did a great job of just keeping them off balance,” said head coach Beth Torina. “Her pitches were all over the zone and she did a good job of just being Carley Hoover. That’s what she does. She competes for us. She carries us. She’s enthusiastic. She pulls for us and she’s just a great competitor.”
LSU (44-14) improved to 13-0 when it does not commit an error.
LSU batters found success in the top of the fifth inning against junior pitcher Meagan Prince. Singles by Amber Serrett and Emily Griggs put runners on first and second, prompting Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson to send SEC Pitcher of the Year Kelsey Nunley to the circle.
Sandra Simmons sent Nunley’s third pitch deep over the right-center field wall, giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead. It was Simmons’ third home run of the season.
“She’s worked hard for everything she’s gotten this year,” Torina said. “I’m so proud of her in this moment.”
The Wildcats (43-12) now await the NCAA Tournament draw, to be revealed Sunday night.
Tennessee 5, South Carolina 1: When Tennessee junior Megan Geer hits home runs, the Volunteers win. She hit her 10th home run of the season in the first inning, leading the No. 3 seed Volunteers past No. 11 seed South Carolina. Tennessee is now 10-0 when Geer hits a home run.
“I was really just trying to keep it simple and not think too much and just take it one pitch at a time to try and get something going for our team,” Geer said.
The Volunteers scored five runs off five hits with no errors. Tennessee is trending in the right direction at the right time, having won 14 of their last 17 games.
South Carolina’s lone run came off a Kamryn Watts RBI single in the top of the second inning. Tennessee pitchers Erin Gabriel and Matty Moss held the Gamecock batters to just two hits for the rest of the game, retiring the final 11 batters in order.
Florida 1, Mississippi 0: Kelsey Stewart scored on a passed ball with the bases loaded in the fifth inning as the No. 1 Gators escaped an upset Thursday night in a storm-delayed quarterfinal.
Stewart led off the fifth with a double off Mississippi pitcher Madi Osias. A pair of walks loaded the bases with no outs, setting up the score on the error.
SEC Tournament semifinals
Where: Starkville, Miss.
3 p.m.: LSU vs. Tennessee
5:30 p.m.: Florida-Ole Miss winner vs. Auburn-Alabama winner