6:07:27 04-12-2021UKvsGeorgiaSoftball

Kentucky Wildcat sophomore Rylea Smith (19) dives and misses a catch during the University of Kentucky vs. University of Georgia softball game on Monday, April 12, 2021, at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 5-2. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Who’s ready for some fall ball?

Kentucky took the field against in-state rival Louisville, winning in comeback fashion 5-4 just 16 weeks after ending their season against Alabama in the 2021 NCAA Super Regional. While the key pieces have stayed in tact in Kayla Kowalik, Lauren Johnson, Erin Coffel and Renee Abernathy — there were some noticeable changes in the Wildcat lineup. 

Junior pitcher Sloan Gayan got the start on the mound for Kentucky, replacing 2020-21 ace Autumn Humes. She had to ease her way into things, giving up two hits, an RBI and a walk in her first inning but retired the batters in the second in order.

Speaking of pitchers — Louisville’s senior pitcher Taylor Roby retired the first six Kentucky batters through two innings as Kentucky tried to figure out their identity in the box this fall. Other than the first four batters noted previously, Kentucky’s five through nine in their lineup were completely different than this Spring. 

Freshman pitcher Alexia Lacatena, who Kentucky fans may recognize from being a member of the 2020 Italian Olympic team, stepped onto the mound for her first outing as a Wildcat. She gave up four singles in a row, including an unearned run on a throwing error to give Louisville a 2-0 lead directly followed by a Makayla Hurst RBI single — all on 13 pitches of Lacatena. She escaped the inning on a double play where Charley Butler grounded to second after 22 pitches.

The Wildcats didn’t get on base until the third when Kennedy Sullivan and Emmy Blane reached on a pair of singles — a sign that Kentucky’s back-half can make plays when needed.

The starters were pulled after three innings — Kowalik, Johnson and Abernathy all finished 0-2; Coffel’s one at-bat ended an infield ground out. She would get another chance in the box in the eighth that ended the same way. Sullivan and Blane were the only starters to either get a hit or find themselves on base against the Cardinals before the subs began.

Kentucky transitioned to sophomore pitcher Stephanie Schoonover for the fifth and she didn’t have much luck either. The bases were loaded after two singles and a HBP, but a leaping grab for freshman shortstop Margaret Tobias send the side packing with  a leaping grab in the infield. 

Head coach Rachel Lawson turned to her proven pitchers for the sixth and seventh and had to have been pleased with what she saw from her upperclassmen.

Schoonover was relieved in the sixth by one of the only returning pitchers on Kentucky’s roster — Tatum Spangler. Spangler finished 2020 with a 3.14 ERA on a 4-3 starting record. She pitched 28.2 innings last season, striking out 25 and allowing only one home run — she proved to be Kentucky’s most efficient pitcher on the afternoon, retiring the the sixth inning side in order on less than 10 pitches.

Miranda Stoddard, who went 5-0 in her 2020 starts on the mound, took over in the seventh. She pitched 53 innings in 2020, compiling a 4.08 ERA, 23 K’s and five homers — she also retired the Cardinal lineup in order with ease.

The seventh inning meant rally time.

Junior outfielder Rylea Smith put Kentucky on the scoreboard with a two-RBI single, sending Stoddard and Sarah Stone home off a grounder that bounced off a Louisville defender’s glove. Smith was waved home off a RBI-double from Emma Boitnott to cut the lead to one run. Hallie Mitchell smacked a shot to left field afterward, bringing home the tying run and just like that — Kentucky was in the drivers seat.

Tatum Spangler came home on an Izzy Harrison sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth that gave Kentucky their first lead of the ball game which proved to be the game winner.

Kentucky finished with five hits compared to Louisville’s eight; four of Kentucky’s five came in the seventh and eighth inning. The Wildcats finished with one error.

Lawson and company will take the field for game two of their fall season at Ohio State next Sunday, Sept. 26 at. 1 p.m.