UK Softball sweeps 2022 Hillenbrand Invitational


Kentucky Wildcat freshman Erin Coffel (21) warms up before the University of Kentucky vs. University of Georgia softball game on Monday, April 12, 2021, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 5-2. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

No. 16 Kentucky softball (9-1) finished the 2022 Hillenbrand Invitational undefeated, going 5-0 in the event, including a win over the host school — No. 9 Arizona.

The Hillenbrand Invitational was the second road tournament the Wildcats have attended to start their season, finishing the Northern Lights Southern Nights tournament 4-1 on Feb. 13.

From the beginning of the invitational, UK seemed poised to dominate, destroying UC Santa Barbara 23-0 to set a new record for most single-game runs scored in program history, which doubles as the largest shut-out in team history.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Stephanie Schoonover threw a complete game no-hitter for Kentucky in the winning effort, striking out seven batters and only allowing two Gauchos to reach base with walks.

Three Wildcats went perfect from the batter’s box with two or more attempts, most notably senior catcher Kayla Kowalik, who finished the game 4-4 with a homerun and two RBIs.

Immediately following the blowout against UCSB, Kentucky once again took the field, this time to duel Loyola Marymount.

The Lions put up a fight, giving UK its toughest battle of the invitational, sending the game into extra innings.

After a clutch pitching performance by freshman Olympian Alexia Lacatena, Kentucky secured a 7-6 victory, scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the winning run being driven in by junior outfielder Rylea Smith.

Kentucky earned its second shutout of the invitational in game one of its second doubleheader, beating Long Beach State 5-0.

Junior pitcher Sloan Gayan earned her first win of the season, pitching four innings and recording one strikeout before Lacatena entered the game in her relief.

Lacatena added a strikeout to UK’s total and did not allow a hit during her time in the circle, adding to her impressive showing in Tucson, Arizona.

Despite the score, only four Wildcats recorded hits against Long Beach State, with three RBIs coming from sophomore infielder Erin Coffel, who recorded two doubles on the night, going 2-3 from the box.

In the biggest game of the invitational, Kentucky took the field to battle No. 9 Arizona on the latter’s home field.

The game was close, but thanks to solid relief pitching from senior Kennedy Sullivan, as well as a clutch saving performance by Lacatena, Kentucky escaped with a 7-6 victory.

Two Cats went yard in the ranked win, including Sullivan who recorded a double and a homerun while also earning the win in the circle.

In the final game of the invitational Kentucky was given an easier task: beat UC Santa Barbara for the second time in three days.

Once again, Kentucky put on an offensive clinic, besting the Gauchos 11-1 with Lacatena earning the win as a starting pitcher.

Senior outfielder Renee Abernathy earned the biggest headline in the win, hitting a grand slam in the top of the fifth inning.

By the end of the invitational, 12 Wildcats had recorded RBIs while nine Cats recorded at least one home run.

UK improved to 9-1 on the season and will look to continue its winning streak on Thursday, Feb. 24, against Jacksonville in the FAU Strikeout Cancer Classic. The classic will see the Wildcats face five different teams in the span of three days, including two doubleheaders. 

Kentucky’s duel with Jacksonville is currently scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. EST.