Well, the Hittin' Kittens ran out of Cinderella juice last night and fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide, 2-0. This is a typical Kentucky score when faced with a high-quality opponent, because as good as Kelsey Nunley is on the mound, and as solid as the defense is behind her for the most part, Kentucky has been a fairly offensively-challenged team all season. They just don't put up a lot of runs, and when facing one of the finest college pitchers in America, as they were in 'Bama's Jaclyn Traina, you have to find ways to plate runs. Last night, the Wildcats couldn't, and as a result, they got shut out by the Tide.
This game was a straight-up pitcher's duel all the way. Kelsey Nunley was sharp for Kentucky, although she was fighting a tendency to lose the ball high and inside all night, and that cost her in the second inning when the Tide's Leona Lafaele drilled a low-arcing liner over the center-field fence, scoring Peyton Grantham with her 2-run blast. That would be the end of the scoring for either team, but not the end of the drama.
J-Train kept the Wildcats at bay, surrendering only an infield hit in the bottom of sixth inning, by Sylver Samuel. Samuel's speed got her aboard, but the Wildcats could do no more that turn except spoil Traina's no-hitter. But after Nunley retired Alabama after four batters in the seventh, the last Kentucky at-bat was worth the price of admission.
The first three Wildcats up in the last inning all got aboard with singles, loading the bases with no outs. Unfortunately, that brought up the bottom of the order for Kentucky, and the bottom of the order is pretty hitting-challenged for the Wildcats. Traina struck out right-fielder Emily Gaines, and then Krystal Smith hit the ball sharply, but straight to the Alabama shortstop, who turned the 6-4-3 double-play to preserve the Alabama lead and end the contest. I really thought Smith reached first in time, but then again, that's what partisans always think. Rachel Lawson didn't explode, so that tells me it was probably a good call.
This tough loss sends the Wildcats to the loser's bracket, where they will face elimination against the winner of the Baylor-Florida St. elimination game at 12 PM Eastern today. Kentucky's game is at 7 Eastern time. As a final bit of analysis in this one, there is really not much to be said in the negative about Kentucky's play. They were facing a good pitcher who just held their hitters at bay for way too long, and Alabama got a big play from a player coming off a hitting slump. You see this sort of thing all the time in baseball and softball, and pitcher's duels usually come down to just one or two big plays. Kentucky had a chance, but they just got it at the wrong time, and in the wrong place in the order.
Here's the updated bracket from NCAA.com:
Click to embiggen
Kentucky's foray into the Women's College World Series is not over by any means, but it becomes an uphill battle from the loser's bracket. But with Kelsey Nunley on the mound and Laruen Cumbess in the lineup, anything is possible.