The University of Kentucky softball team turned back a seventh-inning rally by Tennessee on Thursday to upset the Volunteers 2-0 and advance to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Columbia, S.C.
Kentucky (43-14) scored one run in the fourth inning and one in the fifth and rode a stellar pitching performance by sophmore Kelsey Nunley (23-7) to upend the tournament's No. 2 seed Tennessee.
The Wildcats, the tournament's No. 7 seed, advanced to play No. 6 seed LSU on Friday at 3 p.m. Friday's second semifinal pits No. 5 seed Georgia against either No. 1 seed Alabama or No. 9 seed Auburn.
LSU advanced with a 6-0 victory over No. 3 seed Missouri on Thursday.
"I love softball so it's not hard to enjoy this," UK Coach Rachel Lawson said. "But with that said, being in the SEC, you are only as good as your last games. We have a really tough opponent tomorrow and (LSU head coach) Beth (Torina) is one of the best pitching coaches in the league. So while this is fun, we have to stay focused on the end goal, which is winning the next game."
Tennessee (42-10) attempted to launch a rally in the seventh, filling the bases after Nunley retired the inning's first two batters. The Vols' Haley Tobler then battled Nunley through a nine-pitch at-bat that ended on a called strike to end the game.
"I think coach really did a good job at calling pitches and keeping Tennessee off balance," Nunley said. "I made them guess at what I was throwing and I think it worked."
Ellen Renfroe (26-6) went the distance for Tennessee, striking out seven.
Kentucky scored the only run it needed in the fourth.
Emily Gaines led off with a single, advanced to second on a passed ball and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. With one out, Emily Jolly grounded out to shortstop and Gaines scored from third.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 2-0 in the fifth when Christian Stokes hit a solo homer to left field with one out.
Stokes, UK's sophomore shortstop, finished the day with three of the Wildcats' seven hits. Senior right fielder Gaines had a pair of hits.
"I am just trying to stay comfortable in the box, stay confident and clear my head before each at bat," Stokes said. "I'm not thinking too much about what the pitcher is going to pitch before I go up there, I just have a clear mind and I know I'm going to get it done when I get in the box."
Kentucky 2, Tennessee 0
Kentucky 000 110 0—2 7 1
Tennessee 000 000 0—0 5 0
Nunley and Joiner. Renfroe and Aldrete. W—Nunley (23-7). L—Renfroe (26-6). 2B—Stokes (UK), Aldrete (UT). HR—Stokes (UK).
Records—Kentucky 43-14, Tennessee 42-10.