Cats claw way to College World Series

After knocking on the door in recent years, Kentucky knocked it down on Sunday.

The Wildcats are headed to their first Women's College World Series in school history after coming back to win Games 2 and 3 against 12-time national champion UCLA in the Los Angeles Super Regional of the NCAA Softball Tournament.

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No. 14 Kentucky (49-17) advances to play Louisiana-Lafayette (49-8-1) next week in Oklahoma City. The Cats had been to the Super Regional in two of the last three years, inching ever closer to a historic trip to the WCWS.

To get there, UK had to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss on Saturday in Game 1 when UCLA got a sixth-inning grand slam to claim a 6-4 win. The Cats responded with two decisive wins on Sunday, never trailing in wins of 7-3 and 7-1.

"This is a special day for us," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "We're going into a place that we've never been before. I feel really excited. It's a dream come true for all the girls on our team and our staff, we've worked incredibly hard. This particular senior class, this is our third Super Regional, so we've been close enough to taste it, but for it to actually be a reality is very special. For it to happen on such a storied softball field, where college softball was pretty much invented..."

Junior right-hander Kelsey Nunley (29-9) threw every pitch in the Super Regional for UK. She was the tough-luck loser in Game 1 as defense led to six unearned runs by the Bruins, but the Cats were rock-solid behind her on Sunday. She threw 14 innings in Games 2 and 3, allowing just four earned runs on 11 hits.

Kentucky got a well-rounded team performance with Christian Stokes and Nikki Sagermann each collecting two hits in the finale. Griffin Joiner drove in two runs, while the bottom three in the UK order -- Krystal Smith, Emily Jolly and Ginny Carroll -- comibined for three hits, three runs scored and three RBI.

Sagermann and Joiner were also offensive stars in Game 2, each collecting a pair of hits with Sagermann driving in a run. Smith went 1-for-2 with three RBI, while Lauren Cumbess went 1-for-3 with two RBI.

No. 3 UCLA saw its season end at 52-8. The Cats held national player of the year candidate Ally Carda to just three hits on the day and became only the fifth team to beat her in the circle this season when they got to her for five runs on four hits and walk in only one-third of an inning of Game 2.

Kentucky scored four more runs on five hits against Carda (32-5) in a Game 3 relief appearance. Paige McDuffie (3-1) started and took the loss for UCLA, allowing three runs on five hits and a walk.

According to ESPN, only 15 percent of teams who have lost Game 1 of a three-game series in the NCAA Softball Tournament have come back to win the final two games.

UK will be joined in the WCWS by two other SEC teams, Alabama and Florida. UL-Lafayette, Oregon, Florida State, Baylor and Oklahoma round out the field of eight.

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