TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the aid of freshman slugger Abbey Cheek and senior pitcher Kelsey Nunley's first career home runs, the No. 18 Kentucky softball team powered its way past the No. 4 Oregon Ducks 8-6 on Saturday afternoon at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.
Nunley, who had four hits her entire career coming into Saturday, came up to the plate in a scoreless, hitless game in the top of the third inning and launched a home run over the wall in centerfield at 210 feet - the deepest part of the ballpark to put Kentucky up 1-0. That run was the opening of a five-run inning for the Wildcats to give UK command of the game early.
The other four runs would come via a grand slam from Cheek, who with the bases loaded - jacked one over the rightcenter field fence to put the Wildcats up 5-0. The homer for Cheek was the first of her career after just missing one on Friday night against Notre Dame.
Kentucky would score a run in the fifth and two in the sixth to put insurance runs on the board - which would come in handy in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Ducks made their final-inning rally.
With two runners in scoring position and two outs in the bottom of the seventh leading 8-6, Nunley got a bouncer right to her and was able to calmly throw to first for the final out to secure the win.
UK will face the New Mexico Lobos on Sunday at the Tempe Sports Complex. First pitch is slated for 5:45 p.m. ET from the Valley of the Sun.
Key Stat Six. Kentucky had six players in the starting lineup both score a run and record a hit in Saturday's win. Those players include Maisie Steed (2 runs, 2 hits), Katie Reed (1,1), Nikki Sagermann (1,1), Abbey Cheek (1,1), Sylver Samuel (1,1) and Kelsey Nunley (1,1).
Key Play With the score 8-5 Kentucky and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, sophomore Erin Rethlake made a sensational diving catch up against the wall to deny Oregon the opportunity to continue its scoring rally in the inning. Rethlake sprinted from her starting position all the way to the intersection of the wall and the foul pole and turned her glove while diving to her left and came up with the sensational catch to end the inning. That catch ended the inning with UK in front, 8-5.
Key Player Kelsey Nunley. In her first appearance in the Blue and White this season, Nunley contributed both on the mound and in the batters box, going the distance allowing nine hits, three earned runs, two walks and striking out five. She additionally hit her first-career home run in the third inning.
Run Recap Kentucky took the lead on Nunley's first-career home run in the bottom of the third over the centerfield fence. Later in the inning, Ansley Smith walked, Steed singled and Sagermann walked to load the bases for Cheek. Cheek then delivered on a grand slam, her first-career home run. UK 5, ORE 0
Oregon would get one run back in the fourth inning as Jenna Lilley led off the inning with a double, and later came around to score on a Gwen Svekis single. UK 5, ORE 1
In the top of the fifth, Katie Reed led off the inning with a single, and then stole second base to put herself in scoring position with nobody out. Sagermann got her to third on a groundout and she was brought in on Jenny Schaper's double to the wall in leftcenter field. UK 6, ORE 1
The Ducks made it two runs in the bottom of the fifth as Nikki Urida would launch the first of her two home runs on the day to left field to pull the Ducks to within four runs after five. UK 6, ORE 2
Kentucky would score twice in the top of the sixth. A single by Sylver Samuel turned the lineup over for Maisie Steed, who roped a double down the leftfield line to score Samuel from second after a passed ball put her in scoring position. Steed would advance to second on the throw and was brought home by a Sagermann double to the wall in left. UK 8, ORE 2
Back-to-back fielding errors put runners on base for the Ducks, who would both score on a three-run homer by Urida, her second of the day. UK 8, ORE 5
To lead off the bottom of the seventh, Hailey Decker hit a solo shot to rightcenter field to pull the Ducks to within two runs of the tie. Nunley would get a groundout to end the game with runners on second and third. FINAL - Kentucky 8, Oregon 6