On a day when the University of Kentucky softball program honored its seniors, it was a pair of fourth-year veterans who powered the Cats to another victory over a top-five opponent.
Meagan Prince allowed just one hit in five innings of relief and Breanne Ray belted a two-run go-ahead single to lead No. 18 Kentucky past No. 4 Texas A&M 7-2 at John Cropp Stadium on Saturday’s Senior Day, evening the three-game series with the Aggies. The Cats have now won seven of their last eight.
Before the game, Prince and Ray were joined by Shannon Smith in the middle of the infield. The three seniors and their parents were given a bouquet of flowers and framed jerseys before a video highlighting some of their contributions to the program played on the scoreboard video screen.
Once it was game time, they created a few more highlights.
Smith started in the circle for UK and looked sharp, retiring six of the Aggies’ first seven batters before allowing a walk and a single to begin the third inning. Prince came on in relief and gave up a two-run single to Riley Sartain for a 2-0 Texas A&M lead, but four walks were all the Aggies could muster against the lefty the rest of the way.
Prince retired six of A&M’s last seven batters, including a strikeout to end the game, for her 17th win of the year (17-6).
“This is probably my most memorable win,” said Prince. “For us to come from behind like that is a big deal. And then the seniors, we showed up today … This is definitely one for the books for me.”
Texas A&M starting pitcher Lexi Smith, who suffered her first loss of the season (11-1), held Kentucky hitless through four innings before Brooklin Hinz led off the fifth with a pinch-hit double to right field. After Abbey Cheek walked, freshman Bailey Vick singled home the Cats’ first run. Katie Reed popped out to third base, setting the stage for Ray’s two-out heroics. Ray slapped an opposite-field single to right that scored Cheek and Vick and put UK ahead for good.
In Friday’s series-opening 4-2 loss, UK left the bases loaded to end the game. Ray made sure the Cats’ rally didn’t fall short on Saturday.
“I was really seeing the ball today, so I wanted to be the person to give my team what we needed to take the lead right there,” she said. “I knew we could do it; we were so close last night. We’re just as good as them, so I was so glad that we could prove that today.”
Ray notched her 24th RBI of the season on a bases-loaded walk as UK batted around and broke the game open with a four-run sixth inning, which included RBI singles by Cheek and Reed as well as another bases-loaded walk by Alex Martens.
The Cats have developed a habit of unleashing their offense late in games, having outscored their last eight opponents in the final two innings by 25 runs. UK Coach Rachel Lawson has mixed feelings about the new tendency.
“We have a lot of guts and we don’t have a lot of quit in us … but I wish they had a greater sense of urgency in innings one through five so I wasn’t having a heart attack,” Lawson said with a laugh.
In Sunday’s 1 p.m. rubber match, UK will be looking to win its third Southeastern Conference series of the year and third game against a top-five opponent. The Cats knocked off then-No. 3 Florida, who’s now ranked No. 1, on April 15.
Texas A&M at Kentucky
When: 1 p.m.