Postseason softball came to a delayed, yet rapid ending for the Wildcats in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
No. 9 Kentucky softball (30-20-1; 10-14) started their SEC Tournament run against No. 8 Florida (36-19; 12-13 SEC) on Thursday after rain and weather delays pushed back the original start time of Wednesday night. Following another minor delay on Thursday morning at Bogle Park, the first pitch was finally thrown, but the final result wouldn’t go Kentucky’s way.
Hitting some bumps in the road along the way, the ‘Cats came out flat, briefly gained some momentum, but quickly lost it again. In the end, Kentucky fell to the Gators 6-2 as they now look ahead to the NCAA Tournament.
Slow start for the ‘Cats
Graduate student Kayla Kowalik started things off on the right foot in the top of the first with a single. But despite Kowalik’s early success, two straight fly balls and a ground out left her stranded on base with no runs scored for UK.
In the bottom of the first, junior Stephanie Schoonover stepped into the circle for the ‘Cats. A walk right off the bat put a Gator player on first and a wild pitch allowed her to steal to second. Although Schoonover picked things up, a sac fly gave Florida room to score and put them up early 1-0.
“We have to focus on starting off strong and staying strong,” Kentucky first baseman Meeko Harrison said postgame.
It was another unsuccessful offensive turn for Kentucky in the second and third innings. Florida also struggled on offense in the second. The Gators came out strong in the third and had bases loaded, but Schoonover and the Kentucky defense held them to no runs as the score remained 1-0 going into the fourth.
Harrison steps up big
The top of the fourth was a huge inning for the ‘Cats, which desperately needed to capitalize on their offensive opportunities.
With one runner on base, Harrison stepped up to the plate and hit a rocket out of the park to tally her first of the season and give Kentucky the 2-1 lead.
“The second pitch I just stopped being selfish and was like, you know I’m going to try to do everything I can for my team and that was the pitch I was looking for,” Harrison said.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats’ lead did not stay for long as Florida was able to score one more off of Schoonover in the bottom of the fourth to tie things up at 2-2. The Gators kept rolling in the fifth with a crushing three runs added to take a late 5-2 lead heading into the sixth.
Pitching struggles lead to loss
New Jersey native Alexia Lacatena came in for relief in the sixth after Schoonover started to struggle. Lacatena allowed another Gator score in the sixth to make it a 6-2 game. Kentucky would need four runs in the top of the seventh to take it to extra innings, but could not get the job done.
“The key is you don’t go out just to play softball and have a good time, you have to go out to dominate the situation that is in front of you,” Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson said.
This is the mindset that Lawson wants her team to take with them going into the NCAA Tournament portion of their postseason. The NCAA Selection Show is set for Sunday, May 14 at 7:00 p.m. EST on ESPN. UK is expected to earn one of the 32 at-large bids in the field of 64.
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