The Kentucky Softball team found itself in a familiar position on Friday as it opened play in the NCAA Tournament as a site host for the 4th consecutive season. Securing the national #14 seed on the back of the #1 strength of schedule in the country, the Cats needed a solid weekend in order to advance to their 3rd consecutive Super Regional, and their 6th in 7 years.
First up in the double elimination round was the University of Toledo. With Autumn Humes drawing duties from the circle, it appeared Kentucky would get out of the inning fairly quickly as the 1st two batters were retired instantly. But a string of hits given up by Humes resulted in the Rockets getting 2 runs across the plate.
Rachel Lawson’s team wasted no time in striking back. After leadoff hitter, Jenny Schaper was hit by a pitch and then Katie Reed walked, a perfect opportunity awaited SEC Player of the Year, Abbey Cheek. Cheek drilled a pitch into deep left center, allowing Reed and Schaper to score. But Abbey wasn’t satisfied with a solid double — she tempted fate and hustled her way to 3rd base. It appeared the throw would beat her, but was targeted to the wrong side of the bag and Cheek had a triple.
Afterward, Alex Martens struck out which brought Kayla Kowalik to the plate. Kowalik got on base after being walked and then ended up in a rundown on a Mallory Peyton grounder. Determination, and a flub by the Toledo shortstop, got Kowalik to 2nd base safely. Meanwhile, Cheek was able to cross home plate, giving the Cats the lead, 3-2.
Lauren Johnson then singled to bring home Kowalik and that was the end of the scoring by Kentucky.
Everyone was settled in for a high-scoring affair, but the next 3 innings went by quickly with neither team able to generate any offense. That all changed in the bottom of the 5th, however as Kentucky got a 2-run home run by Alex Martens. Kowalik then singled, Peyton was hit by a pitch, and Johnson once again singled to load the bases. Senior Kelsee Henson then hit a fly deep to left field, allowing Kowalik to score the Cats’ 7th run.
While the Rockets tried to get a rally going in the 7th inning, the Cats held them at bay and the game ended with Kentucky holding a 7-2 advantage. UK had 8 hits, left 6 runners stranded and had 1 error for the day. For Toledo, they had 2 runs on 8 hits, left 7 runners on base and were charged with 2 errors.
In the double-elimination format, the Cats will face the winner of Friday’s first game, Virginia Tech which will begin at noon on Saturday. Should Kentucky win that game, they will move to Sunday’s final.