The weather was perfect for the second game of Kentucky’s softball series against 18th-ranked Missouri, but the Cats’ defense was anything but.
A day after edging the Tigers 7-6 on the strength of a six-run first inning, 12th-ranked UK committed six errors and allowed five unearned runs, falling to Missouri 9-2 in front of the season’s second-largest crowd (1,420) at John Cropp Stadium.
Missouri opened the scoring in the second inning when Kentucky third baseman Abbey Cheek overthrew second after a hard grounder by Kristen Mack, bringing Chase Nelson home from first. Cheek prevented a Missouri run in the inning with a diving tag of Mack that just beat her slide into home plate after she got caught in a rundown, but the Tigers tacked on a second run on Kolby Romaine’s RBI single.
After hitting two home runs in Friday’s win, Cheek stayed hot at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double that nearly cleared the right-field wall.
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“If there was a silver lining, Abbey would be it,” UK Coach Rachel Lawson said. “At the plate she was very strong and I know she made one mistake, but she made a couple of defensive plays that were big.”
Kentucky cut Missouri’s lead in half in the bottom of the second. After back-to-back singles by Brooklin Hinz and Jenny Schaper, Tigers starting pitcher Paige Lowary fired off two straight wild pitches to bring home pinch runner Sarah Rainwater.
Missouri struck again in the top of the fourth, using a solo home run from Amanda Sanchez and a two-run shot from Romaine, her first homer of the year, to take a 5-1 lead.
Lowary, who went all seven innings to improve to 16-5, squashed UK’s biggest threat of the day in the bottom of the fourth. After consecutive singles from Breanne Ray and Nikki Sagermann, Maisie Steed drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases with one out for the Cats.
But Lowary needed just three more pitches to escape the inning, drawing a soft tapper back to the mound from Sylver Samuel and a first-pitch popup from Katie Reed.
Two more errors led to another pair of Tiger runs in the fifth. On a double steal, UK catcher Schaper overthrew second base, bringing the lead runner home. On the next play, Cheek mishandled a hard grounder to third that plated another run.
UK’s six errors were its most since 2012, when the Cats had six on the road against UCLA.
“I don’t think we did a lot right today,” Lawson said. “(Missouri) did a really good job of putting the ball in play. When that happens, you’ve gotta make sure your defense is tight behind you. Any time you put that many people on base and then start kicking the ball around a little bit, it’s just a recipe for disaster.”
Lowary had six strikeouts, and UK batters were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
“Any time something like this happens, it starts in the circle and then it trickles out to the defense. And then, of course, the offense starts to overswing and do some things that are uncharacteristic,” Lawson said. “I think they were trying to get a five-run home run with one swing.”
Kentucky did not score again until the bottom of the seventh, when Hinz slapped a two-out single to center field that scored Samuel. Lowary fanned Schaper swinging to end the game, even the series and set up a rubber match at noon on Sunday.
Missouri at Kentucky
Noon Sunday (ESPNU)