No. 17 Kentucky rallies late to draw No. 9 Texas after controversial finish


Kentucky Wildcat freshman Stephanie Schoonover (23) pitches during the UK vs. Morehead State game on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Cropp Softball Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 13-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Colton Johnson, Reporter

No. 17 Kentucky softball fought from behind to secure a draw against No. 9 Texas during its final game of the 2023 NFCA Lead-Off Classic on Sunday.  

The tie wrapped up the event that saw the Wildcats finish both of their Friday games in five innings, beating St. John’s 14-4 and Louisville 8-0.

While another double-header was scheduled for Saturday, the Wildcats’ matchups against Pittsburgh and Southern were both canceled.

After the Wildcats failed to record a hit in the top of the first inning against the Longhorns, Kentucky’s defense took the field with junior Stephanie Schoonover opening on the mound.

Despite a two-strikeout inning from Schoonover, Texas would quickly plate a pair of runs putting Kentucky in a two-run hole.

The Cats would remain hitless in the top of the second inning with only three athletes traveling to the batter’s box before surrendering two more runs after a two-out double from Texas sophomore Mia Scott.

Kentucky outfielder Vanessa Nesby (11) jumps on the outfield wall on a home run during the UK vs. Oklahoma softball game on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Oklahoma won 9-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Wildcat junior Vanessa Nesby would be the first to reach base for Kentucky in the top of the third after a lead-off bunt, but the momentum stopped there as the next three Wildcat batters failed to record a hit.

Schoonover would counter by adding another strikeout, retiring the first three batters up for Texas in the bottom of the third.

After a hitless fourth inning from both teams, Kentucky would finally get on the board in the fifth inning after Nesby reached first on an infield single. Nesby proceeded to steal second and third base before being driven home by an RBI double from sophomore Hallie Mitchell.

Schoonover would use the momentum to retire her tenth straight Longhorn batter after all three Texas hitters flew out in the bottom of the fifth.

Kentucky would go on to rally after senior Rylea Smith and graduate student Kayla Kowalik reached base. A single from junior Erin Coffel would then drive home Smith to make the score 4-2.

After Wildcat junior Grace Lorsung advanced to first after being hit by a pitch, an error by the Texas infield on a single by sophomore Taylor Ebbs allowed both Kowalik and Lorsung to score, tying the game at 4-4.

The Wildcats would remain sturdy defensively, not allowing a run in the bottom of the sixth after walking the first Texas batter. Kowalik would go on to end the inning, picking off a Texas runner that was attempting to steal second base.

Kentucky would record one hit in the seventh inning, though it wasn’t able to capitalize on it, before once again standing tall on defense, retiring the first three Texas batters to round out the seventh.

Kentucky catcher Kayla Kowalik (99) bunts during the UK vs. Oklahoma softball game on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Oklahoma won 9-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Though the game would go into extra innings, with Kentucky scoring three runs in the top of the eighth, the Wildcats wouldn’t be able to get three outs in the bottom of the eighth before the drop-dead time of 3:30 p.m. forced the score to be reverted to 4-4 after a healthy dose of stalling by Texas.

The tie brought Kentucky’s record to 2-0-1 as the Cats left the NFCA Lead-Off Classic undefeated.

The team will look to carry this momentum when it kicks off the 2023 North Texas tournament against UT Arlington on Feb. 17 at noon EST.