COLUMBIA, S.C. — The No. 16 Kentucky softball team used a walk-off single from Nikki Sagermann to claim a 4-3 nine-inning victory against Mississippi State in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Bulldogs trailed 3-0 entering the top of the sixth before freshman Katie Anne Bailey tied the contest with a bases-clearing triple. The loss eliminates the Bulldogs from the SEC tournament.
The Wildcats (42-14) were led by Christian Stokes, who drove in two runs and had three hits. The Bulldogs (38-19) were paced by Bailey’s three RBI and junior Julia Echols, who was 2-for-2 with a double and an MSU single-game record-tying three hit by pitches.
Senior Alison Owen got the start and recorded one out, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk. She struck out one. Freshman Alexis Silkwood (13-7) threw the remaining eight innings, giving up two runs on five hits, five walks and four strikeouts. Kentucky’s Kelsey Nunley (22-7) scattered six hits and eight hit by pitches in the complete-game effort. She struck out four and walked one.
The Bulldogs tried to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but had a runner thrown out at home. With one out, senior Heidi Shape was hit by a pitch. After a fielder’s choice from freshman Caroline Seitz forced Shape out at second, senior Sam Lenahan was hit by a pitch to put two runners on base. Echols followed with a single to center, but Seitz was thrown out at home to end the threat.
After the defensive hold, Kentucky took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Stokes led off with a home run. Sylver Samuel followed with a single through the left side and stole second base. She came home on a single to center from Sagermann. Owen recorded a strikeout before walking Lauren Cumbess. Silkwood entered for Owen and closed the inning with a strikeout and foul out.
The Wildcats nearly added to their lead in the bottom of the second, but a great defensive play from sophomore shortstop Kayla Winkfield left it a 2-0 deficit. After consecutive strikeouts, Stokes walked and Samuel singled up the middle. Sagermann lined a ball toward left center, but Winkfield jumped up and made the run-saving catch.
MSU got its leadoff batter on in the top of the third, but could not convert. Sophomore Loryn Nichols led off with a single and moved to second on a groundout, but was left stranded by a pop out and groundout.
The Bulldogs had another runner on base in the fourth as Echols hit a one-out double, but a fly out and groundout ended the threat.
Kentucky added its third run in the bottom of the fourth to go up 3-0. Emily Jolly singled through the left side, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a two-out single to center from Stokes. A groundout closed the frame.
MSU used a two-out rally in the top of the sixth to even the game at 3-3 with Bailey’s big hit. With one out, Seitz singled through the right side and was replaced at first by junior pinch runner Ashley Phillips. After a fly out, Echols was hit by a pitch and senior Logan Foulks singled to left to load the bases. Bailey drilled a 1-0 pitch to right center that cleared the bases and evened the game. A groundout stranded Bailey on third.
Kentucky had an opportunity to regain the lead in the bottom of the sixth, but could not convert. Griffin Joiner led off with a walk and was replaced at first by pinch runner Dari Richardson. After a 13-pitch battle, Jolly grounded one to third baseman Seitz, who threw to second for the force on Richardson. A strikeout and lineout ended the frame.
The Bulldogs had two runners on with two outs in the top of the seventh, but failed to convert. With two down, Shape was hit by a pitch and Seitz reached on a throwing error, but a strikeout kept it a tie game.
After stranding a Kentucky runner in the bottom of the seventh, the teams headed to extra innings tied at 3-3.
MSU put two runners on base in the top of the eighth, but failed to convert. Echols led off being hit by a pitch and Bailey drew a one-out walk. Nunley avoided damage with consecutive strikeouts.
MSU loaded the bases in the top of the ninth with three hit by pitches, but a check-swing groundout ended the threat.
The Wildcats earned the win in the bottom of the ninth with Sagermann’s walk-off single. Ansley Smith walked to open the frame and Stokes hit the first pitch for a double to center. After a foul out, Sagermann singled up the middle to plate Smith.
MSU will wait to learn its NCAA tournament fate at 9 p.m. Sunday with the NCAA Selection Show. ESPNU will broadcast the one-hour show live.