The Southeastern Conference Softball Tournament came to John Cropp Stadium on Wednesday.
And Kentucky promptly went.
Tenth-seeded South Carolina stunned the seventh-seeded Wildcats 6-3 in a game that didn’t start until 10:29 p.m., and ended Thursday at 12:27 a.m.
Alabama edged Texas A&M 10-9 in the rain-delayed opener.
Thursday’s quarterfinals will open with Alabama taking on No. 1 seed Florida at 11 a.m. Then, it will be fourth-seeded LSU against No. 5 Georgia at 1:30 p.m., No. 3 Missouri versus No. 6 Arkansas at 4 p.m., and No. 2 Tennessee against South Carolina at 7:30.
“I think the SEC is a special tournament because all the teams who come here, all 10 of them, are exceptional,” UK Coach Rachel Lawson said. “I expect that most of us are going to be in the post-season, if not all of us.”
UK (38-18) took an early lead with an unearned run in the second inning. Alice O’Brien, who started the uprising with a one-out single, eventually scored on an error by catcher Shelby Gonzales.
Otherwise, Carolina right-hander Julie Sarratt was perfect in every other inning except the seventh. She retired 13 in a row from the second through sixth innings.
“She did a really good job,” Lawson said. “She was pitching three different speeds and I don’t think we were really on time for any of them. I thought we made a nice adjustment late in the game but after they had scored so many runs, I think it was a little bit too late.”
Sarratt (11-7) struck out six and did not walk a batter, scattering five hits.
“The whole mentality of the game was to just keep them off-balance. That’s what we were trying to do the whole game,” Sarratt said. “Coach calling pitches. Just looking at each batter and seeing what their tendencies were. And just going at them with the change-up was really effective. They’re a good hitting team, so you have to keep them off-balance.”
UK counterpart Kelsey Nunley fanned five, walked two and yielded five hits.
The Gamecocks (32-22) took advantage of Kentucky miscues while plating four runs in the third inning.
“Maybe a couple pitches didn’t go exactly where I wanted them to,” Nunley said. “Then, they’re good hitters. Anybody is in the SEC.”
After a leadoff walk, catcher Griffin Joiner fielded a bunt and was late in trying to cut down the lead runner.
Seeing-eye singles through the right side by Samie Garcia and Alaynie Page scored a run each.
Kristen Struett singled through the left side to drive in Garcia, and Page tallied on an error by Joiner.
Chelsea Hawkins’ two-run homer in the sixth widened the gap to 6-1.
Joiner led off Kentucky’s seventh with a solid single to center.
O’Brien then blasted a two-run homer to right-center.
One out later, Krystal Smith reached on a fielding error, then took second on Kara Dill’s single.
That brought up pinch-hitter Ginny Carroll, representing the tying run.
Carroll moved the runners up on a come-backer, but Sarratt fanned Maisie Steed to end the game.
“I thought it was a great game tonight,” Gamecocks Coach Bev Smith said. “Julie certainly did an excellent job keeping a tough Kentucky offense down.
“I’m really proud of our team, the way we battled. I thought we had some really good at-bats, were able to put some good hits together.”
Alabama 10, Texas A&M 9: After waiting out a 3:21 weather delay, Alabama and Texas A&M struck like lightning in one inning.
Alabama brought the final roll of thunder, though, in the bottom of the seventh inning.
That’s when Danielle Richard’s two-out, full-count triple down the left-field line drove in two runs to give the Crimson Tide a walk-off victory.
“It was a very entertaining game,” Crimson Tide Coach Patrick Murphy said. “I thought everybody got their money’s worth. I think TV got their money’s worth.”
Alabama (42-12) took an 8-3 lead when Leona Lafaele launched a fifth-inning grand slam homer.
Ninth-seeded A&M (39-15) rallied with a slam of its own, by Amber Garza, to make it 8-7 in the sixth.
An inning later, Cassie Tysarczyk’s two-run blast gave the Aggies a 9-8 lead.
That set the stage for Alabama’s last-inning rally.
Haylie McLeney started things with a single, reaching second when shortstop Taran Tyler booted Molly Fichtner’s potential double-play ball.
Two outs later, Richard ripped her game-winner down the line.
“I was just going in there trying to look for a strike, maybe something in,” Richard said. “And she threw it in. I just hit it.”
A&M scored twice in the first, on Garza’s sacrifice fly and Mel Dumezich’s run-scoring single.
The Crimson Tide answered with four in the first, highlighted by Kaila Hunt’s three-run homer.
The Aggies pulled to within 4-3 in the fifth on Cali Lanphear’s RBI single.
“I thought our ball club fought really hard tonight,” A&M Coach Jo Evans said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win and come from behind. I’m really proud of the way our kids fought, and they way they wanted it.”
South Carolina 6, Kentucky 3
South Carolina 004 002 0 -- 6 5 3
Kentucky 010 0002 -- 3 5 1
Sarratt and Gonzales; Nunley and Joiner. HR — Hawkins (SC) 8; O'Brien (UK) 7.
Alabama 10, Texas A&M 9
Texas A&M 200 014 2 — 9 10 1
Alabama 400 040 2 — 10 10 1
Dumezich and May; Traina, Jury (7) and Fichtner. HR — Hunt (Ala.) 13, Lafaele (Ala.) 5, Garza (A&M) 10, Tysarczyk (A&M) 11.