Kentucky softball’s long-awaited home-opener saw gray, overcast skies with 20 mile an hour winds gusting from home plate to centerfield, but it did not stop 417 fans from showing up to John Cropp Stadium to watch Kentucky get their 10th win of the season with a 4-1 victory over Dayton.
Around 25 or so of those fans were members of Kentucky’s ROTC, which provided the spark Kentucky needed in the not-so-friendly softball conditions. Every time a play went Kentucky’s way, the fans in the army uniforms screamed and cheered like it was a walk-off winner.
“We were not expecting that and everyone in our dugout was like, ‘we wish they would come every single game,’” Kentucky softball head coach Rachel Lawson said after the game. “We didn’t expect to have such an excitable crowd and the fact that they came out, gave us a really big boost from the get-go — and I think they’re a lot of reasons why we put the runs on the board early.”
The group was at their loudest when junior infielder Abbey Cheek delivered two triples that gave Kentucky half of their runs. Cheek’s first triple brought Hannah Huffman home in the third inning, and her second brought Katie Reed home in the fifth to give Kentucky their fourth and final run.
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Cheek became the second player in Kentucky history to record multiple triples in a game, the first since Meghan Cooper hit three triples in February 2006.
“If I would’ve started today, I would not of said Abbey was going to have two triples today,” Lawson said. “I thought she was going to put the ball in the air put up on the left side, so I just think she just wanted to do it the hard way today.”
Cheek’s triples were the first two she’s hit all season, and she now has more triples than she does doubles on the year. Coming into this season, Cheek had hit three triples in her last two years, with two of those coming during her freshman year in 2016.
Both of Cheek’s slides into third base were close calls, with the second one being a little more risky. However, Cheek never doubted that she was going to be safe.
“Honestly, right before I hit second, I’m looking at my third-base coach and if she’s waving me, I’m going,” Cheek said. “I’m trusting her, I’m just going to go and do my little slide and try to be safe.”
While Lawson said she was surprised to see Cheek record the pair of triples, she wasn’t surprised with her base running.
“I think Abbey surprises a lot people because she is so big and so strong, but she’s an incredible runner,” Lawson said. “She’s a fantastic athlete, if she was a man, she’d be worth millions of dollars.”
Cheek’s two triples were the only extra-base hits Kentucky hit in the whole game, marking just the third time all season that Kentucky went without recording a double.
Cheek now leads the team in triples, with the only other one coming from Katie Reed in Kentucky’s game against Bradley on Feb. 24.
“I was just really focused on seeing the ball, once I hit it really hard I was just running until they told me to stop,” Cheek said.
Up next for the Wildcats will be the John Cropp Classic this weekend, where Kentucky will take its 10-3 record into two games against Ohio and two games against Southeast Missouri State. Kentucky’s first game will be against Ohio on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
This weekend’s games
1:30 p.m.: Ohio at UK
4 p.m.: Southeast Missouri State at UK
12:30 p.m.: Southeast Missouri State at UK
3 p.m.: Ohio at UK