The University of Kentucky softball team’s offense had been dead in the water for more than a week. On Saturday, it came alive right on time to put the Cats in position to win their second Southeastern Conference series of the season.
UK scored five runs total over the course of a three-game sweep against Auburn last weekend. The struggle continued early Saturday as the Cats managed just one hit in a 9-0 loss to Alabama in the first game of a doubleheader at John Cropp Stadium.
But after a locker-room heart-to-heart between games the Cats looked like a different team.
A record crowd of 2,425, which featured a healthy contingent of Alabama fans, watched as UK piled up 14 hits and knocked off the Crimson Tide 11-6 to set up a rubber match in Sunday’s series finale. The only game at John Cropp Stadium to draw a bigger crowd than Saturday’s nightcap was the 2013 SEC title game between Florida and Missouri.
The 14 hits were the most Alabama has allowed all season. Junior catcher Jenny Schaper said a team meeting after Game 1 seemed to wake up the Cats.
“We had a pretty long chat in the locker room and we just talked about (how) we didn’t have a lot of energy. We weren’t ourselves, we weren’t the team we knew that we could be,” she said. “We ate some food, regrouped, talked amongst ourselves and came out almost like new people.”
Schaper went 3-for-3, drew a walk and drove in four runs. Her two-out, bases-loaded double in the second inning cleared the bases and gave the Cats a 4-1 lead. The Crimson Tide struck back with five runs in the third, but Grace Baalman and Erin Rethlake shut them down the rest of the way. UK took the lead for good with three runs in the bottom of the third as Bailey Vick and Katie Reed came up with RBI singles.
Reed added the exclamation point in the bottom of the sixth with a two-run homer that the Alabama center fielder nearly stole. Elissa Brown leaped above the wall, but the ball glanced off the top of her glove.
“Actually I thought (Brown) was gonna have that. I was happy when I saw it bounce over,” said Reed with a laugh. “I was just trying to be more aggressive than I was in Game 1.”
Her offense was undoubtedly clutch, but without Reed’s defense the Cats might not have been in position to get the win. She made a great play in the bottom of the first on a hard-hit, bases-loaded grounder to start a double play and end the inning.
“If she doesn’t turn that double play and they put a couple of runs on the board I think you go back into defensive mode,” UK Coach Rachel Lawson said. “That really not only pumped us up but kept us in a situation where we could be the aggressor.”
The Crimson Tide pounded the Cats 9-0 in game one with a combination of stellar pitching and power. Alexis Osorio was nearly untouchable as she tossed a complete game and struck out 10. Alabama homered three times in the win.
But Schaper said that game is well in the Cats’ rearview mirror.
“It means a lot that the series is even. They beat us big in the first game but that doesn’t matter anymore,” she said.
After finding their missing offense, the Cats will be aiming to win their second SEC series of the year in Sunday’s finale.
“Wins in the SEC are not easy to come by so any time you’re playing at home you want to be able to seal up the series,” Lawson said. “And, of course, Alabama is such a storied program. ... so to be able to compete with them and hopefully win the series would mean a lot about how far Kentucky softball has come.”
Alabama at Kentucky
1 p.m. Sunday