Early start helps Kentucky softball settle into tournament victory over Toledo


Kentucky junior Autumn Humes pitches during the game against Toledo in the NCAA tournament Regionals on Friday, May 17, 2019, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

A team that barely made it into NCAA Tournament, the upset-happy Toledo Rockets softball team jumped out to an early 2-0 start over the No. 14 seeded Kentucky Wildcats in the first inning of Friday afternoon’s NCAA Regional Tournament opener in Lexington. 

But it wouldn’t matter as the Cats were just getting started. 

“We were a little bit tight at the beginning, but I thought that we did a really good job of calming down after the first half of the first inning and starting to play our game a little better,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said postgame.

The Cats did indeed settle down. In the bottom of the first, Abbey Cheek brought home two runs on a double before sliding home at third following a fielding error. The SEC Player of the Year soon scored on another fielding error before Lauren Johnson singled home. 

“Those kinds of things are what gives the team’s energy. When she slid into third and avoided the tag, that gave us energy and Kayla [Kowalik] had a similar slide that did the same thing,” Lawson said. “Momentum-gaining plays like that are what the postseason is all about.”

That momentum may not have been as prevalent with the bats soon thereafter, though. The Cats went three up, three down on offense for the next two innings and wouldn’t get another hit until the fourth inning. 

But that momentum must have immediately transferred over to Cats’ starting ace Autumn Humes. After a rocky first inning start, she allowing no runs and just two hits for four innings as she received her team-leading 14thvictory this season.

It’s the result of lessons learned from the regular season. 

“One thing I’ve learned this year is that when things start to go south or don’t go as planned, I learned to just take a breath and figure out what needs to be done in that pitch in that moment to get the job done,” Humes said postgame. “We just made the adjustment to find our center.” 

The momentum picked back up on offense in the fifth innings thanks to the big bat of Alex Martens. The power hitter hit a two-run home run that hit the scoreboard that inning following two frustrating strikeouts. Kelsee Henson’s sacrifice fly put the icing on the cake in the 7-2 routing. 

“The reason Alex is such a great ballplayer is because she’s very mature and has a great mind. If she makes a mistake in an at-bat, she has the ability to pick herself back up,” Lawson said.

While Cheek and Martens’ big bats made noise, so did Johnson’s. She was a perfect 3-for-3 on the day with a double and her RBI. Despite having the second-fewest RBIs on the team, she says she “more confident in herself this year.”

“We’re kind of an answer-back team. Whenever they put up two runs, all of us came together in the dugout and said, ‘It’s two runs, we can do this.’” Johnson said. 

The Cats will look to repeat that same success Saturday at noon against the Virginia Tech Hokies against possible starter ACC Pitcher of the Year Carrie Eberle Jr.