OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kaitlyn Thumann doubled and scored on an error in the bottom of the eighth inning as Baylor rallied from a seven-run deficit to stun Kentucky 8-7 on Saturday night in an elimination game in the Women’s College World Series.
Much like the regular-season basketball game between the women’s powers — which Kentucky won in four overtimes — the WCWS matchup had all sorts of twists and turns.
“Wow,” Baylor coach Glenn Moore said. “I won’t forget that one until I forget who I am. These girls are incredible. They just didn’t quit believing. For five innings, we weren’t even in the game. That’s why you play seven, I guess. I just thought we were facing a team destined to win and (there was) nothing we could do about it.
“Three outs to go and thinking there’s not much hope, I turned to my little boy in the dugout and said, ‘You’re not going to cry after this, are you?’ He said, ‘Cry? We’re going to win!” I was like, “Yeah!” It was just unbelievable execution and fight from these girls.”
Kentucky (50-19) led 7-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, but Kelsey Nunley (30-11) — who allowed just three hits to that point — gave up six singles during a three-run rally for Baylor. Ari Hawkins led off the seventh with a solo home run to make it 7-4 and Robin Landrith’s two-run, two-out double tied it.
In the eighth, after Thumann doubled, Hawkins bunted and Kentucky catcher Griffin Joiner’s throw to first base caromed off Hawkins into right field, allowing Thumann to score.
Baylor (49-16) was eliminated by fifth-seeded Florida on Sunday. Florida (53-12) will face Alabama in the best-of-three finals, which started on Monday. “Right before we entered the field (in the sixth), our seniors pulled us together and said, ‘Hey — this is not going to be our last game,’” Hawkins said. “I just took that to heart and I just was not going to go out losing. I just went up there and tried my hardest.”
That made a winner of Baylor reliever Heather Stearns (15-4), who allowed one hit in 2 1-3 innings. Stearns also recorded the win earlier Saturday as the Bears eliminated Florida State 7-2.
Ginny Carroll, Emily Gaines and Krystal Smith homered for Kentucky as the Wildcats built their 7-0 lead.
Gaines and Carroll both homered off Baylor ace Whitney Canion (31-12) during a three-run second inning, with Smith — who went 3 for 4 — smashing a double in between. Carroll’s homer ended Canion’s day.
Carroll’s RBI single in the fourth keyed a two-run inning for the Wildcats, who took advantage of an error by Thumann in right field. In the sixth, Smith homered just inside the left-field foul pole to make it 6-0. Christian Stokes later doubled with two outs and scored on the back end of a double steal, with Sylver Samuel taking second base.
But Baylor wasn’t done.
The Bears answered with six hits — all singles — off Nunley in the bottom of the sixth. Linsey Hays, Jordan Strickland and Lindsey Cargill each had a run-scoring single and the Bears brought the potential tying run to the plate with two outs, but Thumann struck out to end the rally.
Nunley threw every inning for Kentucky during the postseason.
“At one point, I thought about putting one of our other pitchers in, but really, the mistake with me is that I didn’t prepare them to come in,” coach Rachel Lawson said. “The reason I went with Kelsey is because I’m comfortable (with her). A change would have been great, but it would have been too unpredictable.”
The loss concludes the winningest season in UK softball history with the Wildcats earning 50 wins and advancing to the Women’s College World Series for the first time in program history. Kentucky started the season with 12 consecutive wins, marking the longest winning streak in school history and the best to start a season in program history.