LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Ninth-seeded Kentucky used two-out rallies in the top of the seventh and eighth innings to power past the Illinois Fighting Illini and extend its season in its third game of the day on Elimination Saturday of the NCAA Softball Championships.
Kentucky will face Utah on Sunday in the regional final, needing to beat the Utes two times to advance into the Super Regional round since Utah is 2-0 and Kentucky is 2-1 in the double-elimination tournament. Both games (if necessary) will be shown live on ESPN3 with Dave Baker and Ginny Carroll on the call as well as the WatchESPN app and ESPN3. Select parts of the game will air on ESPN's 'Bases Loaded' coverage throughout the day on multiple ESPN platforms.
Kentucky 3, Illinois 2 (8 innings)
Kentucky found itself trailing 2-1 going into the top of the seventh inning and its season three outs from closing. Senior Christian Stokes led off the inning with a single to the left side, and with two outs, was brought home on an RBI single into center by freshman Katie Reed to tie the game. After senior pitcher Kelsey Nunley closed the door on Illinois in the bottom of the seventh, Abbey Cheek led off the top of the eighth inning with a single up the middle and into center. UK then put two aboard with no outs as Cheek was ruled safe at second on an attempted bunt by freshman Jenny Schaper and the Wildcats had a rally going. After a hard-luck lineout double play by Brooklin Hinz right back to the pitcher recorded Illinois' first two outs of the inning, Stokes stepped up and launched an RBI double off the wall in right field to score the game-winning run. Nunley then allowed a lead-off single, but nothing more in the bottom of the eighth, and Kentucky booked its improbable spot in the NCAA's Lexington Regional on Sunday afternoon at John Cropp Stadium.
Utah 3, Kentucky 0
Utah junior shortstop Anissa Urtez hit a two-run home run in the top of the first inning and sophomore pitcher Katie Donovan shut the door on the Kentucky offense, powering the Utes to a 2-0 victory over Kentucky in the winner's bracket game Saturday at John Cropp Stadium.
Donovan was brilliant in the circle, tossing 6.2 scoreless innings with four strikeouts and no walks allowed. The win moves her to 19-10 on the season. She was replaced in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and two runners on by Miranda Viramontes, who got a strikeout to end the threat. Kentucky senior pitcher Kelsey Nunley received the loss, allowing three runs in seven innings with four strikeouts. The loss moves Nunley to 20-6 on the season.
A one-out walk to Utah second baseman Hannah Flippen in the top of the first inning started the rally for the Utes before Urtez hit her fourth home run of the season to give Utah an early lead. The Utes added an insurance run in the top of the seventh inning after a leadoff double by Delilah Pacheco, who moved to third on an error and later scored on a sacrifice bunt.
Kentucky had only four hits in the game, with freshman infielder Abbey Cheek going 2-for-3 with a double and single, while seniors Sylver Samuel and Nikki Sagermann each had singles.