Nearly a full calendar year after they last took the field, now-No. 12 Kentucky was finally able to get back in action with its year-opening series in Birmingham, Alabama versus the Bulldogs of Samford. The Cats didn’t skip a beat, claiming all three matchups to kickstart what should be an exciting campaign.
Playing a doubleheader on Friday, Kentucky flew out of the gate thanks to Kayla Kowalik. The junior catcher led off game one with a triple to right field and scored via wild pitch just moments later, putting the Cats up 1-0 before fans normally would have reached their seats.
Freshman Erin Coffel, the nation’s No. 7 recruit according to FLOsoftball, got the start at shortstop in her Kentucky debut. Slotting second in the batting order, she notched her first career hit by slapping a single into left field with two outs in the third. Junior outfielder Renee Abernathy then knocked a double into center, allowing her to race around and tally her first run as a Wildcat.
But she wasn’t done. With one out in the fifth, Coffel played long ball, going deep to center for both her first home run and RBI in blue and white, pushing Kentucky ahead 4-0. Fifth-year senior Autumn Humes – exercising her extra year of eligibility from the NCAA blanket waiver for spring athletes – scattered four hits across her seven frames in the circle, racking up seven strikeouts on the way to finishing the 4-0 shutout.
Four proved to be the number of the day for the then-No. 13 Cats. They flexed their muscle in game two by swatting four home runs in the opening frame, allowing them to cruise to a 15-3 five-inning victory. Miranda Stoddard (three-run shot) and Mallory Peyton (solo) went back-to-back around an early pitching change, while Kowalik capped the power spree with a two-run bomb.
Grace Baalman, who tossed three innings of one-run ball to get the win, also contributed with the bat, smacking the third home run of the first inning to crack double-digits for Kentucky. She had four RBIs, while Coffel continued her torrid day with four singles and three RBIs of her own.
Both schools brought the sticks early and often in Saturday’s game three, which saw the Bulldogs lead 3-2 after frame one, 5-4 following inning two and 8-7 at the conclusion of the third. Humes came up big once again for the Cats, hitting a two-run dinger to propel Kentucky back in front. She then returned to the mound less than 24 hours after her first-meeting shutout, surrendering just one run over the final four innings to allow her squad to break out their brooms.
The 12-9 win was Humes’ second in as many days. She ended the day 3-of-5 at the plate with two RBIs. Abernathy went 3-for-4 at the dish for the second game in a row, and led the Cats with 4 RBIs in the wild series finale.
Kentucky rose one spot in both the USA Today/NFCA Coaches’ and ESPN.com/USA Softball rankings as a result of the sweep.
Coffel, who finished the trio of outings 8-for-12 (.667 average) with a double, home run and five RBIs, earned D1 Softball’s National Freshman of the Week distinction behind her stellar performance.
Originally scheduled for one contest on Friday and a doubleheader Saturday, but the teams were forced to adjust on account of the weekend’s weather forecasts.
The Cats head to North Carolina this weekend for three days of doubleheaders. They start off in Greensboro, where they will face the Spartans twice on Friday. Four games in Buies Creek pack Saturday and Sunday, when Kentucky matches us up against North Carolina Central, Campbell and Mount St. Mary’s in the 2021 Campbell Invitational.
There is no livestream for the Invitational battles, but Friday’s dates with UNC-Greensboro are available on ESPN Plus. First pitch is set for 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. E.T.