Kentucky catcher Kayla Kowalik – say that five times fast – notched two singles, a stolen base and RBI in the opening frame, bookending a seven-run first inning that pushed the No. 7 Cats to a run-rule victory.
Kowalik, who actually roamed center field in the top of the first, entered the game ranking second in the country in total hits (49) behind a .471 batting average. She raised those numbers to 51 and .477 in the same blink of an eye that Kentucky jumped in front 7-0.
Eight different Wildcats recorded an RBI in the shortened affair, which lasted less than two hours. No Kentucky player totaled more than two RBI, as the lineup demonstrated the balance it possesses from top to bottom.
Coming off the emotional high Monday night’s comeback victory over Alabama brought – and looking ahead to another top-25 series Friday through Sunday – it wouldn’t have been surprising to see UK come out flat. Instead, they rode that wave to a big win, enabling them to conserve some premier pitchers for the upcoming three-game set.
Dual-threat star Autumn Humes, the Wildcat ace, slotted in as the designated hitter tonight, but left the contest in the bottom of the first after advancing to second on an RBI infield single from Tatum Spangler. She was replaced by Renee Abernathy, who took over center field duties for Kowalik upon arrival.
Grace Baalman, another quality arm, exemplified that nature in the circle this evening, allowing only three hits and one run in four strong innings. She punched out seven Morehead State hitters and smacked a two-run homer in the process, demonstrating her all-around ability. Her pitching record is now 5-1 this year.
Erin Coffel and Meeko Harrison also played long ball for the Cats. Coffel’s was her team-leading 12th of the year and gave her a squad-high 35 RBI; Harrison’s shot represented both the first hit and home run of her Kentucky career.
Vanessa Nesby slapped an RBI triple to left center in the bottom of the fourth inning, snagging her first career three-bagger and first Wildcat RBI.
The run-rule win was Kentucky’s tenth of the season, and its first since Mar. 7. Head coach Rachel Lawson’s bunch now sits at 26-4 on the year, continuing the best start in program history.
With plenty of confidence in tow, the Cats take off to Knoxville tomorrow afternoon in preparation for their border battle with No. 18 Tennessee in what should be an enthralling showdown.
The entertainment value is to be determined, but one thing that isn’t is the anticipation level for the series. All three of the games between the Cats and Vols have not only received network treatment, but will be broadcast over the airwaves of ESPNU or ESPN2.
Friday’s series opener is slated for 5:00 p.m. E.T. on ESPNU. Saturday’s 6:00 p.m. E.T. affair is set for ESPN2, while Sunday’s finale returns to ESPNU at 2:00 p.m. E.T.