Posted: Feb 24, 2013 8:58 PM
The No. 20/22 University of Kentucky softball team used incredible offensive performances in both games of its doubleheader to take down Howard 14-0 in game one and win a thrilling 11-inning contest against USC Upstate 12-8 in game two, concluding play in the Coke Zero Spartan Classic with a 11-3 overall record. The tournament was played at Cyrill Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C.
After defeating Howard handily in game one Sunday, the Wildcats stayed on the field to take on the host Spartans in what turned out to be the most exciting game of the season for UK. USC Upstate, which entered the game undefeated with a 10-0 record, started the game with a bang behind a grand slam from Jessica Ujvari to take a 4-0 lead.
The Wildcats fought back, however, scoring seven runs over the next four innings. The comeback was paced by sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, who blasted a two-run homer in the fourth inning to give UK its first lead. The Wildcats had a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning when Upstate's top hitter Shellie Robinson blasted a homer to centerfield to start the seventh inning and force extra innings.
Both teams played international tiebreaker rules in extra innings, placing the batter who committed the last out of the previous inning on second base. UK played small ball to regain the lead in the top of the ninth, but USC Upstate fought back in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game and force more frames.
Finally, UK got the lead for good in the top of the 11th inning. Freshman Sylver Samuel started the inning at second base, moving to third on the bunt single by senior infielder Kara Dill. Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner came through on the next at bat, singling to left field to score Samuel and give UK a lead it would not relinquish. The Wildcats scored two more runs on a single by junior Lauren Cumbess, who scored the fourth run of the inning on a wild pitch.
True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley, who came in to pitch in the third innings after Cumbess started the game allowing five earned runs, got the win after working nine innings, allowing two earned runs while striking out four. Nunley worked a quick 12th inning, getting three groundouts to seal the UK victory.
Joiner led Kentucky (11-3) on the day, hitting .625 (5-for-8) in both games with two doubles, one homer and six RBI. The native of Hopkinsville, Ky., went 2-for-5 in the game against USC Upstate, totaling three RBI, including a two-run homer. On the season, Joiner is hitting .361 (13-of-36) with a team-high three homers. Joiner also has four doubles and 12 RBI.
Cumbess, seniors Alice O'Brien and Dill, and freshmen Maisie Steed and Christian Stokes also had good days at the plate. Cumbess hit .500 (2-for-4) on the day with three RBI, while O'Brien went 2-for-5 with two runs scored and a solo homer. Dill collected three hits on the day, including a 2-for-6 game against USC Upstate, while Stokes had two hits and four RBI and Steed blasted her second homer of the year with two RBI. Dill's six at bats against USC Upstate ties the school record for at bats in a game.
Cumbess still leads the Wildcats in hitting this season with a .452 (19-of-42) average, including four doubles, two homers and a team-high 15 RBI. Dill is third on the team in average at .360 (18-of-50) with a team-high 15 runs scored and three RBI. O'Brien has shown her power this season with three doubles, one homer and nine RBI.
Back-and-forth went the Wildcats and Spartans in game two of the day. After the grand slam in the first by USC Upstate, UK cut the lead to 4-3. The Wildcats scored two runs in the second after Stokes got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and junior Ginny Carroll earned a sacrifice fly. In the third inning, O'Brien supplied the power with a deep homer to right field, her first of the season.
USC Upstate earned a run in the bottom of the third after back-to-back doubles before UK got three runs in the top of the fourth, including the two-run bomb from Joiner, to take a 6-5 lead. UK increased the lead to 7-6 in the top of the fifth on the homer by Steed before Upstate got a homer from Robinson in the fifth and seventh to send the game to extra innings. UK then posted the four-run 11th inning to seal the victory.
The Wildcats started the day with a strong 14-0 victory over Howard of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. True freshman pitcher Katie Henderson was the star of the game for UK, throwing a one-hitter in her first collegiate action. Henderson went all five innings in the game, allowing the lone hit with two outs in the fourth inning, while striking out eight.
Offensively, Stokes and Joiner each had three RBI with Stokes clearing the bases on a double and Joiner launching two doubles. Cumbess went 1-for-1 in the game with two RBI, while sophomore Kara Howard had a two-RBI triple. Freshman Nikki Sagermann also added a RBI.
The Wildcats conclude the weekend having won eight of their last nine games, including three wins over teams ranked or receiving votes in one major poll. UK started the winning stretch with a victory over then-No. 20 Stanford, before taking down Cal Poly and San Diego State, who is receiving votes, in day one of the 23rd Campbell/Cartier Classic. UK concluded the tournament out west with wins over No. 16 Washington and UC Riverside, while its lone loss during the stretch came to No. 1 Oklahoma.
UK went 3-0 in the Coke Zero Spartan Classic, taking down Georgetown, Howard and USC Upstate. In all, the Wildcats scored 34 runs in the tournament, allowing only eight runs - all of which to USC Upstate.
Kentucky will return to the Bluegrass State for a few days of practice before ending its season-opening road trip with the Under Armour Invitational in Tampa, Fla., from March 1-3. The Wildcats will host Marshall on March 6 at 5 p.m. ET for its 2013 home opener in the newly constructed UK Softball Complex.