Kentucky softball wraps up NFCA Leadoff Classic undefeated


Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson walks off the field 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

Luke Fetzer, Staff Writer

Kentucky softball wrapped up the 40th edition of the NFCA Leadoff Classic with an undefeated record, finishing 2-0-1 in an opening weekend that included mercy rules, cancellations and controversy. 

The Classic, which took place in Clearwater, Florida, pitted the Cats alongside several high-profile teams including Louisville, Tennessee and Texas. 

While the Cats finished second in the Classic, bested by the Vols in terms of record, head coach Rachel Lawson’s group left with plenty of positives to relish in, despite the controversial finale against Texas. 

The Wildcats efficiently dispatched St. Johns, their first opponent on Friday, in a game which ended as a 14-4 blowout.

Lawson’s team quickly regrouped and found themselves facing in-state rival Louisville, which entered the matchup having won its earlier game against South Alabama. 

Another impressive display earned the Cats a shutout against the Cards, with the game finishing 8-0 in a five-inning mercy ruling.

Karissa Hamilton’s impressive hitting exhibition, which was topped off by staunch defense and a two-hitter by Stephanie Schoonover, carried Kentucky’s undefeated record into Saturday’s matchups. 

Hamilton’s significant contributions to the success of the Cats even earned her a place in the all-tournament team. 

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

With a Saturday double-header against Pittsburgh and Southern University being rained out, the Cats stepped up to challenge on Sunday against No. 9 Texas. 

Despite trailing 4-0 at the end of the second inning, the Cats, led by Schoonover, slowly began creeping back, notching a run in the fourth courtesy of an RBI double by sophomore Hallie Mitchell. 

Schoonover, who quickly found her groove in the game, went on to retire ten straight Longhorn batters, giving the Cats a chance to turn the tide. 

After an electrifying sixth inning, the Wildcats clawed their way back from the brink, tying the game 4-4.

With the game continuing on, the Cats were forced to watch the clock as, per NCAA rules, if a game is not completed by a set “drop-dead time”, the score reverts to the last completed inning. 

The end of seven innings saw both teams fighting for that crucial breakthrough before the eighth innings saw the Cats finally take the lead 7-4 in the top of the eighth. 

With Texas now up to bat, the “drop-dead time” was quickly approaching.
Whether considered clever, controversial, or downright dirty, the Longhorns effectively brought the game to a screeching halt, utilizing mound visits, infield meetings, pinch runners, warmups and even a batter requesting eye drops in the middle of an at-bat, watching precious minutes tick by as 3:30 p.m. quickly got closer and closer. 

Unfortunately for Kentucky, Texas’ strategy worked, with the “drop-dead time” being reached, forcing the score to revert back to 4-4 and ending the game in a tie.

While still undefeated, the tie ruined the Cats’ chances of clinching first in the Leadoff Classic, with the Volunteers, who finished the tournament 3-0, clinching the win.

While the undefeated record moved Hamilton and the rest of the team up to No. 16 in the national polls, the Cats have another long trip ahead of them, traveling to Celina, Texas, to participate in the North Texas Tournament.

Kentucky first faces off against UT Arlington at noon EST on Friday, Feb. 17.