Hilltoppers knock off No. 7 Kentucky in extra innings thriller

WKU celebrates after beating No. 7 Kentucky on a walk-off hit by redshirt senior Kennedy Sullivan (4) on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Jake Moore

WKU softball (15-4) pulled off a major upset against the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats (23-3) by a score of 2-1 in an extra-innings defensive thriller on Wednesday night in front of a raucous home crowd.

“It’s unbelievable, but at the same time we expected to win,” redshirt senior Paige Carter said after the game. 

WKU would keep the game close in a defense-heavy showdown thanks to the arm of redshirt senior Kelsey Aikey, who made her ninth start of the year and threw six straight scoreless innings, picking up two strikeouts along the way. Aikey allowed five walks but was able to keep the ball in the infield to prevent UK from scoring.

WKU took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to a leadoff home run from Paige Carter, her third lead-off homer of the year and sixth overall.  No runners from either team would score for the next five innings. WKU would threaten to score again in the bottom of the third after loading the bases but all runners ended up stranded. 

Kentucky proved to be able to get runners on base early on, but stranded runners on second and third in both the third and fourth innings. Two more Wildcats would be left at first and second in the top of the fifth due to a diving foul-ball grab by redshirt junior catcher Kendall Smith. Kentucky would leave 12 runners on base in total. 

WKU entered the top of the seventh still holding a 1-0 lead, but a no-out Wildcat triple would prompt Head coach Amy Tudor to put redshirt sophomore Kennedy Sullivan in to relieve Aikey. A sacrifice fly would then score Kentucky’s first runner of the game to tie the game at 1-1. Sullivan would strike out a batter and redshirt freshman Brylee Hage would track down a long fly ball to center field to close the frame.

Carter would get on board with a four-pitch walk in the bottom of the seventh, and redshirt sophomore Taylor Davis would join her on the basepaths with a walk of her own immediately after. Carter had a chance to reach home after Kennedy Sullivan laced a ball towards UK’s shortstop, but was tagged out just short.

Kentucky would put runners on first and third in the top of the eighth with one out, but Taylor Davis made a stunning diving grab in shallow left and flipped the ball to third for the inning-ending double play. 

“Knowing you did that [catch] for your teammates is such a big deal,” Davis said after the game. “Knowing that they were going to win the game because of it … feels amazing.”

Redshirt senior Shelby Nunn would relieve Sullivan in the top of the ninth and was able to prevent any Kentucky offense. Redshirt freshman TJ Webster would reach first on a single in the bottom of the ninth and Carter would reach on a walk before Kennedy Sullivan would drill a hit to center field to score Webster from second. The Hilltoppers poured out of the dugout and onto the field to celebrate.

“I knew that I had to get it done,” Kennedy Sullivan said about her walk-off hit. “I wanted it so bad for my teammates.”

Head coach Amy Tudor was ecstatic with her squad’s performance throughout the nailbiter, noting their resilience and ability to make plays. 

“It’s like a breakthrough,” Tudor said. “We were able to capitalize in the very end. It’s seriously [like] a chess match. And Sullivan came up with that big hit and we were able to get the win.”

The win marks the first time since March 26, 2019 that the Hilltoppers have defeated a ranked opponent. The last time it occurred it happened to also be against Kentucky. WKU improves to 1-4 against Power 5 squads on the season.

WKU will play Lipscomb at home on Tuesday, March 30 at 6 p.m, the Hilltoppers’ final game before they start Conference USA play, which will begin with a four-game series away against Marshall on April 1-3.

Softball beat reporter Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.