BATON ROUGE, La. -- For the third time this week, Tennessee earned a walk-off win against Kentucky. Freshman Meghan Gregg's two-run hit in the bottom of the seventh lifted No. 5 seed Tennessee to a 5-4 victory over No. 12 seed Kentucky on the opening day of the SEC Softball Tournament.
This was the fourth straight game between the two teams as they ended their regular season in Knoxville, Tenn., with a three-game series. Tennessee swept the weekend series, earning a walk-off win on both Saturday and Sunday.
Kentucky was looking to repeat last year's SEC Tournament result, when the Wildcats upended the higher-seeded Vols, but Tennessee held off the upset.
"We knew it was going to be tough playing Kentucky four times in six days," said Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly. "Having swept them at our place, we knew they were going to be coming out on fire, and they certainly did. I thought we played about as poorly as we played all season for the first four and a half innings, but the thing about this team is that they don't quit. They really learned how to fight until the end, and that is a comforting thing for a coach going into postseason play."
Kentucky scored first with a double from freshman Erin Rethlake in the top of the second inning. The Wildcats added to the lead in the top of the third when senior Griffin Joiner doubled to right field to score Christian Stokes.
In the bottom of the fourth, Tennessee got on the board when Tory Lewis drew an RBI bases-loaded walk to score Megan Geer.
Kentucky added to its lead in the top of the fifth when Sylver Samuel scored on a passed ball. Tennessee was not going away, as sophomore Megan Geer tied the game with a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.
In the top of the sixth, Kentucky's Kara Howard reached home plate on an error to reclaim the lead for Kentucky.
Kentucky pitcher Kelsey Nunley started and allowed three runs over 4.2 innings. She left in the fifth at 128 pitches after striking out nine. Freshman Erin Rethlake (4-1) was brought in as relief, until the Vols loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with zero outs. Nunley returned to pitch, but Gregg's hit off the left field wall sealed the victory for Tennessee.
Tennessee's Rainey Gaffin (13-2) earned the win after throwing 4.1 frames with two earned runs allowed. Gretchen Aucoin threw one inning with one unearned run allowed. Erin Gabriel tossed 1.2 frames with no runs allowed.
"I thought it was really good for our team, especially coming off beating a team four times in a row," said Tennessee's Megan Geer. "It was definitely a feat, and we knew it was going to be hard coming into it. But like Coach Karen [Weekly] says, it takes a lot of heart to come in and win like that. It takes a lot of guts to make that happen. I thought it was great."
The Lady Vols improved to 40-13 and the Wildcats fell to 29-24.
Tennessee plays tournament host and No. 4 seed LSU tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. CT/ 6:30 p.m. ET. The game will be live on SEC Network and online at secnetwork.com.