Kentucky softball begins season 4-1

Aaron Benjamin

Kentucky softball began its 2022 season at the Northern Lights Southern Nights tournament, finishing with a 4-1 record at the Sleepy Hollow Sports Complex in Leesburg, Florida.

The Cats kicked off the tournament on Thursday, Feb. 10, against the Wisconsin Badgers.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, with the score knotted up at 1-1, UK senior outfielder Renee Abernathy singled to right field, bringing in two runs. Wisconsin scored another run off the bat of Ellie Hubbard, but late RBIs from Wildcats Taylor Ebbs and Emmy Blane distanced Kentucky’s lead, and the game ended in a 5-2 win for Kentucky.

Pitcher Miranda Stoddard picked up the win, going all seven innings for the Cats, allowing two runs on five hits, while striking out five Badgers. Hitting-wise, Kentucky went 8-27, scoring five and leaving four on base.

UK would return for game two the following morning against the Michigan State Spartans. The Wildcats came out hot in the first inning, scoring three runs, the first two being off a liner triple down the right-field line by Abernathy.

There would be no cooling down Kentucky’s bats, as the team went on to score four more runs in a 7-0 shutout of the Spartans. Catcher Kayla Kowalik led the team in hits with three, going 3-4 on the day. Abernathy, despite going 1-3, racked up three RBIs. Kentucky pitcher Stephanie Schoonover threw the full game, striking out six batters on three hits and one walk.

Later in the afternoon, Kentucky returned to the diamond to cap off the day’s doubleheader against the Liberty Flames. Scoring got started in the fourth via an RBI single off the bat of Blane.

Liberty’s Caroline Hudson reached on a fielder’s choice, with Lilly Heidorn scoring on the play, tying the game at 1-1. In the top of the sixth inning, UK’s Erin Coffel launched a two-run home run, bringing in teammate Lauren Johnson.

That ceased the scoring, and UK came out with a 3-1 victory. Alexia Lacatena and Izzy Harrison combined to pitch five innings, but Stoddard would come out with the win, pushing her to 2-0 on the year. The trio put up 6 strikeouts, allowing two hits and three walks.

The Wildcats got back to the action on Saturday morning against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Something was working for the lineup, as the Cats put up seven runs in the first four innings. The biggest of those was a triple from Johnson, scoring three. The Hawkeyes put up three in their half of the fourth, but UK continued to pour it on.

Kentucky went on an extra-base hitting spree, racking up two doubles and two triples to score four runs to close out the game.

UK won 11-3. Johnson was a big playmaker, totaling five RBIs on her 3-3 day from the plate. Kowalik and Rylea Smith trailed Johnson with two runs a piece driven in. Getting the win from the rubber was Kennedy Sullivan, who was one of four pitchers who saw an appearance in the game for the Cats.

Finally, Kentucky faced the No. 13 Virginia Tech Hokies. The first three innings saw no runs produced. In the fourth, Hokies shortstop Kelsey Bennett singled up the middle, scoring one. Morgan Overaitis would walk to load up the bases in the sixth, and Kentucky would pay for it as Meredith Slaw would send it out for Virginia Tech, clearing the bases for a grand slam and a 5-0 lead.

Johnson would avoid the shutout for UK by hitting a triple to left field, but that wouldn’t change the outcome – Virginia Tech won 6-1. Kentucky struggled from the plate in the final game of the event. The Wildcats put up four hits in twenty-three at bats. Once again, four Cats pitched, with Stoddard taking the loss on the day.

Despite the loss, UK will look to improve on its 4-1 record as it heads west to Tucson, Arizona, where the Cats will play another five games in the 2022 Hillenbrand Invitational starting Friday, Feb. 18.