The UK softball team entered this season with the strongest strength of schedule in the nation. That showed Friday night in Tuscaloosa as the No. 23 Cats (31-19 overall) took on the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide (47-5 overall), their highest ranked opponent so far this season.
In one of their most convincing victories so far this season, the Cats defeated the Crimson Tide 4-1 on Friday night before dropping game two on Saturday night 3-1, ending a five-game winning streak. Friday night’s win marked Kentucky's second top-five road win of the season.
Grace Baalman’s (9-8) long arms stepped up to the task of limiting the Crimson Tide’s nationally 13thranked scoring offense. She allowed only one run on six hits while striking out four batters, receiving her third consecutive win in also her third consecutive complete game pitched.
Jenny Schaper, the hero against Auburn, brought her super cape back out Friday night in the fifth inning. With nobody out and the bases loaded that inning, she clipped a double along the left-field line to bring home two runs. That gave UK a 2-0 lead.
Schaper’s RBI double seemed to inspire more runs, much like Monday’s seven-run sixth inning fiesta. Katie Reed hit a sacrifice fly to the outfield that same inning, giving the Cats another run.
Kelsee Henson provided an insurance run the following inning. With two outs and two strikes, Henson doubled into right-center field to bring home another run, making the score 4-0 Cats.
Alabama’s Bailey Hemphill tried to rally her team back with a solo home run off of Baalman that same inning and cut the score to 4-1.
The Crimson Tide tried to shake off their rare loss heading into Saturday’s nightcap. In front of a national audience, both teams were locked in for a scoreless first five innings. Sarah Cornell (19-1) and Autumn Humes (11-9) pitched maestro performances in that stretch.
UK got the boost it needed in the sixth inning. Long-ball hungry Abbey Cheek blasted a solo shot home run to center field, her team-high 17thof the year, to give the Cats a 1-0 edge. The ecstatic energy wouldn’t last long, though.
In the bottom of that same inning, Maddie Morgan brought home a run after walking with the bases loaded to even up the score. Skylar Wallace soon followed suit with a two-RBI double to give the Crimson Tide a 3-1 lead. Humes was then pulled from the game—she finished the night with two earned runs and five hits allowed with three strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings pitched.
The Cats couldn’t get back into the game from that point on. Lauren Johnson hit a double with two outs in the seventh inning to jumpstart a rally, but Bailey Vick would strike out swinging. Cornell pitched a complete game with four strikeouts and received the victory. Baalman received the loss in relief of Humes.
The rubber match will decide the series on Sunday, April 28that 3 p.m.