Stirring Rally Lifts UK Softball to Series Win over Alabama

by Tim Letcher

The seventh-ranked Kentucky softball team appeared to be on its way to losing to fourth-ranked Alabama on Monday night. The UK offense had struggled to get anything going and the Cats trailed the Tide 1-0 through five innings.

Things got worse for UK in the sixth when Alabama scored three times to take what seemed to be a commanding 4-0 lead. Kentucky had just six outs remaining and needed at least four runs to extend the contest.

In that sixth inning, UK catcher Kayla Kowalik led off with a single and, two batters later, freshman sensation Erin Coffel hit an absolute bomb to center field for her 11th home run of the season. Suddenly, the deficit was cut in half, 4-2.

Coffel wasn’t trying to hit a home run. She was simply trying to hit the ball hard.

“My last at-bat didn’t go the way I wanted to,” Coffel said. “So I was just going up with a good mindset. I wasn’t trying to do anything big, I was just trying to put the ball in play and hit it hard and that’s what happened. Big-time situation, but I was ready for it.”

UK head coach Rachel Lawson knew how important Coffel’s home run was.

“Kayla had that hard shot then Erin hit a home run,” Lawson said. “And that set the tone that we’re here to play.”

The home run by Coffel did seem to spark the Cats. Autumn Humes, who had entered to pitch in the sixth inning, sat the Tide down in the top of the seventh, giving UK a chance in the bottom of the frame.

Kentucky wasted no time cutting into the deficit. First, center fielder Renee Abernathy connected on a solo home run to left field, cutting the deficit to one. Just two pitches later, Rylea Smith cleared the wall in right center field to tie the game at 4-4.

Smith knew the pitch she was going to get in that situation and she hammered it.

“The pitch was an inside pitch and I knew I had been having trouble with that pitch the entire series,” Smith said. “I knew they would have to come with that pitch. It was a consistent out for me throughout the entire series. I had been waiting for it the entire game and I finally got it and I did that with it.”

The Cats were not able to score the winning run in the seventh, so that game went to extra innings.

In the eighth inning, Alabama got one runner on but could not get her in as Humes stemmed the Tide once again. That set up the rally in the bottom of the inning.

Tatum Spangler got things started for the Cats with a walk. After Grace Baalman struck out swinging, the ball got away from Alabama catcher Bailey Hemphill, allowing Spangler to reach second. Hemphill then tried to throw Baalman out at first, which she didn’t have to do, and the ball sailed into right field, allowing the speedy Spangler to reach third.

With still just one out in the inning, Alabama then elected to intentionally walk Miranda Stoddard and Abernathy to face Smith again. And, on a 1-0 count, Smith did what she does best – she hit a chopper to the left side. Alabama tried to force Spangler at the plate but the throw was late and Kentucky was victorious, winning 5-4.

Smith knew her job was to just do her thing.

“I was nervous at first but Coach Lawson was telling me to just do what I usually do,” Smith said. “Knowing that it was something in my forte, to bounce it, made me a little less nervous about it.”

Lawson was happy that Smith was able to come through in the clutch not once, but twice.

“Rylea, considering she didn’t have the best defensive weekend, her ability to focus and come back in and bat says a lot about her character and her toughness,” Lawson said.

Lawson was also proud of her team for never giving up.

“What an amazing game,” Lawson said. “To be able to come back, hit all of those home runs off those amazing pitchers really says something about our offense. I was just really happy that we stayed in the game. It says so much about how tough this team is. After they scored four, we could have buried ourselves.”

Lawson hopes that her team takes a lot of confidence away from this weekend after taking two of three games against the nation’s fourth-ranked team.

“I think they now believe they belong with the elite,” Lawson said of her team. “They truly believe they belong. I think we have a lot of confidence. Right now, we’re doing some great stuff.”

On this night, the really great stuff came in the last three innings and it provided a memorable win for the Cats.


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