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Hairston’s homer helps UK take series; softball team sweeps MSU for No. 2 seed in SEC tourney

Senior outfielder Dorian Hairston hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning, lifting 28th-ranked Kentucky to a 5-4 win over second-ranked South Carolina on Sunday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

With the win, Kentucky claimed the series over South Carolina after the two teams split games of the series on Friday and Saturday.

Dorian Hairston hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning, lifting 28th-ranked Kentucky to a 5-4 win Sunday at Cliff Hagan Stadium (UK Athletics Photo)

Dorian Hairston hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning, lifting 28th-ranked Kentucky to a 5-4 win Sunday at Cliff Hagan Stadium (UK Athletics Photo)

Sean Hjelle (4-0) pitched the final four innings of the game in his longest outing of the season. The freshman right-hander limited South Carolina to two hits and three walks while striking out five to pick up the win.

Kentucky (29-19, 13-11 SEC) had only five hits in the game, but four of those knocks went for extra bases, including Hairston’s game-winner. It was the fifth time this season UK got a walk-off win at Cliff Hagan Stadium, four of which have come against SEC opponents. UK is 3-1 in extra-inning games this year.

The Wildcats scored first when junior third baseman JaVon Shelby hit a two-run homer to left-center field to give the Cats a 2-0 lead in the third inning. It was Shelby’s 11th home run of the season, a total that currently leads the SEC.

South Carolina (36-11, 16-7) responded with a run in the top of the fourth inning off of Kentucky starter Kyle Cody. But the Wildcats had an answer in the bottom of the frame. Sophomore second baseman Luke Becker led off the inning with a double down the left field line. Hairston then advanced Becker to third base with a groundout to the right side. Becker came home on a wild pitch by South Carolina starter Adam Hill, giving Kentucky a 3-1 lead.

South Carolina got an unearned run off of Cody in the top of the sixth inning before Zach Logue came out of the bullpen to get the Cats out of the inning. However, South Carolina tied the game at 3-3 in the top of the seventh on a solo homer by Jonah Bride.

After South Carolina took a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth inning, Kentucky tied it in the bottom of the frame as junior outfielder Zach Reks homered to right field to tie the game at 4-4. It was Reks’ second homer in the series and his fourth of the season.

From that point on, Hjelle tossed four shutout innings and neither team scored until Hairston ended it in the 12th. Hjelle’s most impressive work came in the 11th inning. South Carolina opened the frame with a walk and a single, putting runners on the corners with nobody out. However, with the go-ahead run just 90 feet away from home, Hjelle struck out two batters, walked one to load the bases, then got a strikeout to retire the side.

The Wildcats return to action Tuesday, facing Indiana in Bloomington. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.

Nunley leads softball team to sweep of MSU

Senior Kelsey Nunley did a little bit of everything to lead the 12th-ranked Kentucky softball team to a 4-0 win over Mississippi State on Sunday to preserve a sweep of the visiting Bulldogs. Nunley was responsible for the game-clinching RBI and tossed a seven-inning shutout in the final regular-season game of the season.

The Wildcats secured the No. 2 seed in this week’s Southeastern Conference tournament, the best finish in program history. Kentucky will take on the winner of (7) LSU and (10) Texas A&M on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in Starkville, Miss. The game will be shown live on the SEC Network with Adam Amin and Amanda Scarbrough on the call.

Kentucky finished the regular season with a 43-11 overall record and a 17-7 mark in league play. Mississippi State falls to 25-30 overall and 3-21 against SEC foes. Nunley’s victory today improves her to 20-5 overall on the season. She is the first pitcher in program history to accumulate three 20-win seasons in a career.

Nunley was once again sensational in the circle for the Wildcats. She tossed her 12th complete game of the season and earned her seventh shutout of the year. She yielded five hits while striking out eight.

Kentucky did all of its damage in the fourth inning. Freshman Abbey Cheek got things started with a one-out walk and was followed by back-to-back singles from Brooklyn Hinz and Jenny Schaper. Senior Christian Stokes’ fielder’s choice plated Cheek for the winning run, setting the stage for Nunley. UK’s remarkable senior laced a ball through the right side that plated two scores to preserve the win. The Wildcats added an insurance run thanks to an error by the Bulldogs for the final 4-0 score.

Kentucky’s shutout in today’s game marks the 18th of the season, setting a new single-season program record. The Wildcats’ pitching staff has allowed two or fewer runs in 38 of their 54 games this season. Kentucky is 37-1 in games in which it has allowed two or fewer runs.

From UK Athletics

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