WKU Softball falls to Georgia 11-3 in run-rule defeat, enters Athens Regional consolation bracket

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

The Hilltoppers (31-14), (10-6, C-USA) opened their first day of competition in the Athens Regional by suffering a 11-3 run-rule loss to the host Georgia Bulldogs (30-21), (7-17, SEC) at Jack Turner Softball Stadium on Friday.

Redshirt sophomore Kennedy Sullivan started for the Hilltoppers but was relieved by redshirt junior Shelby Nunn after failing to retire a batter in the bottom of the first. Nunn pitched 5.1 innings in relief, allowing three runs on just four hits while collecting five strikeouts and surrendering five walks before being relieved in the bottom of the sixth inning.

“I think the walks killed us,” head coach Amy Tudor said after the game. “You know, nine walks is like nine hits from my perspective… the walks were deadly.”

Georgia graduate student Mary Wilson Avant took to the circle for the Bulldogs and threw five complete innings before being relieved, allowing three runs on eight hits while collecting a pair of strikeouts.

Kennedy Sullivan went 3-for-3 at the plate with a double and redshirt freshman Taylor Sanders collected two hits and a double of her own. Redshirt sophomore Taylor Davis and redshirt freshmen TJ Webster and Brylee Hage all contributed a hit apiece.

“Being a two-way player, definitely whenever I’m not ‘on’ pitching, I always try to focus more on hitting in order to help my team in any way I can,” Sullivan said. “Obviously I let them down a little bit today in the circle, but I definitely used it to focus in at the plate and try and pick myself and my team up.”

Redshirt senior Paige Carter led off the first with a walk, advanced to second on a ground-out from redshirt sophomore Jordan Ridge, and reached third on a wild pitch before a double from Sullivan drove her home. The Hilltoppers entered the bottom of the frame with a 1-0 lead.

Sullivan walked the first two batters she faced and Georgia junior Lacey Fincher hit a no-out, three-run home run to give the Bulldogs a 3-1 lead. Redshirt junior Shelby Nunn then came in to relieve Sullivan. 

“I didn’t really feel nervous, I just couldn’t really find the strike zone,” Sullivan said. “My pitches weren’t really spinning the way that I feel like they normally do. It’s just kind of an off day but hopefully we’ll be better tomorrow.”

Nunn walked the first two batters she faced before redshirt junior catcher Kendall Smith picked off a runner at second and the pitcher picked up her first strikeout of the day to put two outs on the scoreboard. Nunn then closed the frame with her second strikeout of the inning to strand Georgia runners on first and second.

“Honestly I had a few nerves coming into this, obviously it’s a very big game for all of us,” Nunn said. “I think after the first inning, you get the first inning jitters out a little bit for everybody, and then after that we just try to do our best stuff.”

Taylor Davis got on board in the top of the second with a two-out single and then promptly stole second base. TJ Webster was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second but both Hilltoppers were left stranded.

The Bulldogs were retired in order during their half of the second inning. Sullivan hit a one-out single in the top of the third inning but was left stranded. Back-to-back singles followed by a ground-out put UGA runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the third, but Nunn struck out her fourth batter of the day to strand them both.

Redshirt freshman Taylor Sanders led off the fourth inning with a double to center field and Brylee Hage singled and reached second on the throw to put two WKU runners in scoring position with no outs. Redshirt sophomore Taylor Davis hit a sacrifice fly to score Sanders from third and cut Georgia’s lead to 3-2.

TJ Webster singled and a wild pitch allowed Webster and Hage to take second and third base respectively but both Hilltoppers were left stranded. The Bulldogs were retired in order in the bottom of the fourth on just eight pitches. 

Kennedy Sullivan led off the fifth with a single, her third hit in as many at-bats, and advanced to second on a fly-out from Kendall Smith. Taylor Sanders then drove her in with a single to tie the game 3-3 heading into the bottom of the fifth. 

Fincher hit her second home run of the game, this time for two RBIs, to give the Bulldogs a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Nunn bounced back to pick up her fifth strikeout and induced a pop-up to end the inning.

The Bulldogs relieved Avant with freshman Britton Rogers to begin the sixth inning. The Hilltoppers were then retired in order on three ground-outs in a row. 

Georgia extended its lead to 6-3 in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI double and redshirt freshman Katie Gardner was sent in to relieve Nunn. Gardner got the first batter she faced to ground out before surrendering a single and a walk. Georgia sophomore Sara Mosley hit a two-out RBI single to increase Georgia’s lead to 7-3. 

Gardner surrendered a second walk to load the bases with two outs and Georgia freshman Sydney Chambley ended the game with a walk-off, run-rule grand slam, the third Georgia home run of the day.

“We focused on trying to move the ball through the zone,” Sullivan said. “Georgia, obviously they have really good hitters, they swing, they take their hacks, we want to try to pull them and try to make them swing at pitches that we would move through the zone.”

“Maybe they didn’t move as much as they should have, but we’re going to take what we learned today and try to make adjustments for tomorrow,” Sullivan continued. “I’m sure we’ll bounce back.”

WKU will head to the consolation bracket to play the UNC Greensboro Spartans (34-16), (14-4, SOCON) on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CT. This isn’t the first time the Hilltoppers have had their season on the line as they entered the Conference USA Championship consolation bracket but still fought their way back to a conference title.

“”I think we build on that,” coach Tudor said. “We’ve been in this position before, obviously this is a different stage but the ball is still the same, the plate is still the same, and the bats are still the same.”

Sports Editor Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.