For 6.2 innings, Kentucky’s batters had not even gotten a hit off LSU right-hander Carley Hoover.
But thanks to six scoreless innings by Kelsey Nunley, the Wildcats were still in a scoreless game when Sylver Samuel stepped into the batter’s box with the bases loaded and two outs Saturday afternoon at Tiger Park.
“I knew that was probably our last opportunity to score a run,” Samuel said. “I just tried to stay determined and patient so I could to get anything through the infield so we could score that run.”
Samuel bounced an 0-2 pitch up the middle, and the ball scooted into center field to give Kentucky a 1-0 victory.
“If you’re only going to get one hit,” Wildcats coach Rachel Lawson said, “you want to make sure that hit counts.”
The hit let No. 16 Kentucky improve to 32-8 overall and 9-4 in the Southeastern Conference. The No. 8 Tigers, who had five hits, fell to 29-10 and 5-8 entering the second game of the series at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Nunley and Hoover demonstrated why they are two of the best pitchers not only in the SEC but in the country.
“Today was an awesome pitchers’ duel,” Lawson said.
Nunley (14-4) didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning, but she stranded nine LSU runners.
“When LSU got their runners on base, she did a great job of shutting the door,” Lawson said.
The Tigers had a runner on third with one out in the second, but Nunley struck out Elyse Thornhill and got Amber Serrett to ground out.
With one out in the third, Sandra Simmons hit a ground-rule double to left-center and, one out later, Bianka Bell walked, but Nunley got Sahvanna Jaquish on a fielder’s-choice grounder.
Kellsi Kloss led off the fourth with a single before pinch runner Akiya Thymes stole second and advanced to third on an illegal pitch. But Constance Quinn struck out, Thornhill popped to short and Serrett struck out.
Landry hit a two-out triple in the fifth, but Bell followed with a fly out to center.
“We have to have that timely hit when we have runners in scoring position,” Jaquish said.
Jaquish led off the sixth and, during an eight-pitch at-bat, she lofted a long fly well over the left-field wall — but foul — before flying to the warning track in left.
“I was hoping the wind was going to help me out a little bit,” Jaquish said, “but it actually blew the opposite way.”
In the bottom of the seventh, pinch hitter Allie Walljapser singled with one out and, one out later, Bailey Landry walked on a 3-2 pitch, bringing up Bell.
“I was like, ‘You know, this is what I live for,’ ” Nunley said. “We’ve got one of the best hitters in the nation up to bat. This is what it’s all about, so just go at it.”
Nunley struck out Bell looking at a 1-2 pitch on the inside corner.
“I just tried to forget that the runners are even there and focus on the one that’s in the box and stay loose,” Nunley said.
Hoover (11-4) struck out 10.
“I’m really not frustrated,” she said. “Me personally, I made some adjustments that (coach Beth Torina) and I worked on all week, and it showed.”
She got some key help from her defense. With one out in the sixth, Hoover walked Samuel and hit Katie Reed. Samuel advanced to third on Nikki Sagermann’s fly to right, but Sandra Simmons made a diving stop of Abbey Cheek’s grounder and dived to the bag at first in time for the third out.
Quinn made a diving catch of a liner behind second shortly before Samuel’s winning hit.
“There were some spectacular defensive moments,” Torina said.
And there was spectacular pitching from both sides. Nunely, a four-year standout, improved to 3-3 with a 2.24 ERA in seven appearances against the Tigers.
“I’m going to go to her senior day,” Torina said with a smile, “and I’m going to cheer.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.