Kentucky routs Kent State 9-1 to close out John Cropp Classic


Kentucky junior Lauren Johnson runs to third base during the home opener against Texas A&M on Saturday, March 7, 2020, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 11-9. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Cole Parke

No. 12 Kentucky (16-2) defeated Kent State (6-7) 9-1 to close out the John Cropp Classic, Kentucky’s first home tournament of the season.

The game was a close battle, until an electric fourth inning saw five Wildcats cross home plate.

When the dust settled, Kentucky had scored at least one run in every inning other than the first, with the Cats walking it off in the bottom of the sixth inning.

“It’s nice that the program is finally to a point where we can finish it in fewer than seven innings,” Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson said. “Right now, we’re a little greedy, it’s kind of the expectation when we put up these runs, but we realize it’s not always going to be like that moving forward, so we enjoy it while we can.”

Freshman pitcher Izzy Harrison started in the circle for Kentucky, and despite shakier performances earlier in the season, pitched a complete game, securing the victory for UK.

Harrison threw 112 pitches to 26 batters, notching 10 strikeouts with only five hits allowed, including Kent State’s lone home run in the top of the second inning, courtesy of center fielder Madyson Cole.

“Izzy has worked so hard,” Lawson said. “At the beginning of the season she wasn’t staying in very long, she was walking people and hitting people, all that sort of stuff. She’s really worked hard to command her pitches and you can see that every week she’s getting better. It just shows you how much heart she has and her ability to want to do better and get better every day.”

With Harrison sturdy on the mound even after the home run, Kentucky’s bats went to work, first matching Cole in the bottom of the second as freshman first baseman Taylor Ebbs hit a solo shot to tie the game.

The Wildcats took the lead for the first time in the bottom of the third inning, with sophomore Erin Coffel hitting a single to center field that scored senior catcher Kayla Kowalik. Coffel would be caught trying to turn her single into a double.

With a 2-1 lead, the fourth inning saw the Cats blow the doors open, scoring an impressive five runs on two different Kent State pitchers.

Senior right-handed pitcher Andrea Scali started in the circle for the Golden Flashes, pitching three innings, allowing six runs.

Scali found herself pitching for four of Kentucky’s five runs scored in the fourth before being pulled, though the struggles were not solely on her shoulders.

The Wildcats scored their first run of the inning when Ebbs hit what looked to be a standard groundout, but the Golden Flash infield botched the throw, instead throwing the ball to deep right field, allowing pinch runner Vanessa Nesby to reach home.

Senior center fielder Renee Abernathy took the batter’s box next, notching a double to center field to score Ebbs, with that run going down as unearned due to the prior error.

Junior second baseman Emmy Blane continued the party for the Cats, also recording a double to score Abernathy with her hit being the final batter for Scali.

Kent State opted to make a change on the mound, giving the call to junior Anilese Kelly, who would not fare much better.

Kelly would pitch 2.1 innings, allowing five hits and three runs, including one final run in the fourth inning courtesy of Kowalik, finishing with an ERA of 7.50.

The fifth inning saw more success for Kentucky’s bats, with Blane reaching base on a fielder’s choice, enough to score pinch-hitter Jaci Babbs.

With the game at 8-1 entering the sixth inning, graduate student Lauren Johnson walked off the game for the Wildcats with a double to right center field that scored freshman Margaret Tobias.

The walk-off double was Johnson’s first hit of the game in three at-bats, and served to maintain her over-.500 batting average, which currently stands at .509.

“Our hitters work so hard,” Lawson said. “On their off day they come in and they hit. Lauren has been with us for such a long time, and she knows the game, she’s fun and she’s enjoying it. She’s incredibly strong so when she squares up, great things happen, she’s a really exciting player and fun to watch.”

With the win, Kentucky finished the John Cropp Classic with a record of 3-1, losing its first game of the tournament to No. 19 Michigan 9-0.

Since the loss to Michigan, Kentucky outscored its opponents 28-8, including getting revenge on the Wolverines 9-2 as part of a doubleheader on Friday.

“I love playing these games because it prepares us for SEC play,” Lawson said. “Kent State is a great team and Drake also does very well in their conference, how they do against us isn’t necessarily what they’re going to do in their league.”

Kentucky returns to action next Friday, March 11, against Buffalo in the first game of the 2022 Bluegrass Classic in Lexington.

The battle against the Bulls is currently scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. EST.