The No. 9 Wildcats (45-13) must now beat Utah twice on Sunday in order to reach the super regionals. The Utes upset UK in the previous round of the double-elimination event at John Cropp Stadium, which saw games pushed back from Friday to Saturday due to storms in the Lexington area.
“Today was a great day for us from the standpoint that it started really early this morning and this was the first time in postseason that we have played this many games in one day, I believe," UK coach Rachel Lawson said. "... I think this is the first time since I have been at Kentucky that we have played three games in one day. It was a real tribute to our toughness that we were able to start so early and then end the night with a win."
Kentucky trailed Illinois 2-1 entering the top of the seventh inning and down to the last out of its season when freshman Katie Reed singled to center to score Christian Stokes.
After senior pitcher Kelsey Nunley retired the Illini in the bottom of the seventh, the Cats plated the winning run in the eighth when Stokes launched a two-out RBI double off the wall in right field to score Abbey Cheek, who had led off with a single.
Stokes went 3-for-3 on the day to lead UK at the plate.
Nunley (21-6) threw 7.1 innings of scoreless softball, allowing only three hits, walking one and striking out nine. The UK ace came on in the bottom of the first after starter Meagan Prince encountered early problems.
Breanna Wonderly took the loss for Illinois (36-23), allowing three runs on nine hits and three walks over eight innings in the circle. The Cats did not strike out against the Illini hurler.
Saturday, May 21
Game 1: Utah def. Illinois, 1-0
Game 2: Kentucky def. Butler, 6-1
Game 3: Utah def. Kentucky, 3-0
Game 4: Illinois def. Butler, 2-1 (8) [Butler eliminated]
Game 5: Kentucky def. Illinois, 3-2 (8) [Illinois eliminated]
Sunday, May 22
Game 6: Utah vs. (9) Kentucky – 1pm ET [ESPN3, WatchESPN app, ESPNU Bases Loaded]
Game 7 (if necessary) – Same teams – 3:30 p.m. ET [ESPN3, WatchESPN app, ESPNU Bases Loaded] *
*Winner to Super Regional round May 26-29 on select campus sites