Kentucky softball splits first double-header of 2023 North Texas Tournament


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. 15 Kentucky opened the 2023 North Texas Tournament this Friday, splitting a double-header as it lost to UT Arlington 4-2 and defeated McNeese State 4-0.  

Senior Sloan Gayan started on the mound for Kentucky in its first matchup against UT Arlington, walking a batter before surrendering a two-run home run to Mavericks catcher Sophie Wideman in the top of the first.

The Wildcats would then fail to score a run in the first despite back-to-back forced walks from juniors Erin Coffel and Grace Lorsung, leaving Kentucky in a two-run hole.

Defensive struggles would continue to plague the Wildcats as the Mavericks loaded the bases with the first three runners in the top of the second, scoring one runner after a throwing error to make the score 3-0. 

Kentucky would then make a pitching change to sophomore Alexia Lacatena, stopping the bleeding after picking off a runner at home following a wild pitch and retiring the next two batters.  

After a one-hit bottom of the second from the Wildcats, UT Arlington would add another run after an RBI double by Maverick senior Kimber Cortemelia, bringing the score to 4-0. 

The Wildcats would get on the board in the bottom of the third after senior Rylea Smith reached first on a walk and was plated home by a Coffel home run that scored both of them.  

Kentucky’s defense would settle in the fourth inning, retiring the first three runners it saw. 

Despite two singles from junior Vanessa Nesby, who currently leads the Wildcats in batting average with a .556, and graduate student Kayla Kowalik, the Wildcats would once again fail to put runs on the board.  

With Margaret Tobias being the only Wildcat to reach base across both the fifth and sixth innings, and Lacatena retiring her twelfth straight Mavericks batter in the top of the seventh, it all came down to whether or not the Wildcats could score two more runs force extra innings in the bottom of the seventh.

They would manage to load the bases, despite suffering two outs in the process, but with the go-ahead run on first base, freshman Karissa Thompson battled for six pitches before flying out, ending the game in a 4-2 Kentucky loss.

Looking to bounce back, the Wildcats would face McNeese State in their second game of the North Texas Tournament.

Junior Stephanie Schoonover would start on the mound for Kentucky, striking out two McNeese batters and not surrendering a run in the top of the first.

Kowalik would lead off, laying down a bunt on the first pitch to reach first base before also reaching second on a wild pitch. Nesby would then send a single up the middle, scoring Kowalik and giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead, their first lead of the tournament.

Schoonover then went on to retire the first three batters in the top of the second, adding two more strikeouts to her total.

The Wildcats would increase their lead by two in the bottom of the second after a single by Tobias and a drawn walk from Kowalik were followed by a triple from Smith, plating both base runners.

After a hitless third inning from both teams, Schoonover would add four more strikeouts in the fourth and fifth innings while Kentucky’s offense screeched to a halt, reaching base twice in the two innings but failing to score.

After holding McNeese to another scoreless inning, Kentucky would add another run to its lead in the bottom of the sixth after a sacrifice fly from Smith plated freshman Chelsea Mack, giving Smith her third RBI of the game.

Needing four runs to force extra innings, McNeese would have one runner reach base after being hit by a pitch before Schoonover recorded the last of her 11 strikeouts to end the game with Kentucky winning 4-0.

Kentucky will look to carry the momentum from its second game into its second double-header of the 2023 North Texas Tournament on Feb. 18, 2023, as it takes on South Dakota at 5 p.m. EST, which will be followed by a matchup with North Texas at 8:30 p.m. EST.