'Tough' Schoonover Pitches Cats Past Alabama on Thursday

'Tough' Schoonover Pitches Cats Past Alabama on Thursday

by Tim Letcher

By the time Thursday night’s Southeastern Conference softball game between Kentucky and Alabama ended, UK starting pitcher Stephanie Schoonover looked like she had been through the ringer. She was dirty from her neck to her shoes (after diving for a ball early in the game) and, after what she had just been through, she should have been totally exhausted. However, Schoonover had a smile on her face because at the end of the day, she was also a winner.

Schoonover pitched a complete game, holding the 13th-ranked Tide to just three runs on three hits, while walking six and striking out nine in a 6-3 UK win. She threw a season-high 181 pitches in a win that the Cats needed. UK head coach Rachel Lawson was impressed with Schoonover’s resilience on Thursday.

“She was tough. She was spinning the ball, she was moving it all around the zone, keeping the batters off balance,” Lawson said. “They’re an awesome hitting team with a good approach. Just a great night at John Cropp (Stadium).”

It didn’t look like it was going to be a great night for Schoonover in the first inning. She walked the first two batters of the game. After getting an out, she walked another Alabama batter to load the bases. But she struck out Marlie Giles and Bailey Dowling to leave the bases loaded. Lawson thought that was a pivotal moment.

“Oh, huge, because we’ve been struggling in the first inning in most of our SEC starts,” Lawson said. “So, the fact that we got out of it pretty much unscathed was a big deal. The strikeout was huge. I think that’s what was inspiring. I think the fact that we saw that pitch gave us the momentum.”

Schoonover knows that her previous experience of being in that situation helped her in that situation.

“I feel like it wouldn’t be a Stephanie inning without the bases loaded,” Schoonover said. “It gets me going.”

After Alabama scored a single run in the second inning, Schoonover set down seven straight Crimson Tide batters before a hit by pitch with two outs in the fourth. Schoonover would retire the next batter to get out of any potential trouble. She did give up a pair of solo home runs in the sixth inning but was able to get through that frame with a three-run lead. Still, Schoonover hates giving up the long ball.

“I hate giving up home runs,” she said. “It’s a mental thing, but I knew my team had my back, they put runs up there, all I had to do was fight.”

By the end of that sixth inning, Schoonover had thrown 152 pitches.  She was not aware of her pitch count at that point.

“I did not. I figured it had been a lot,” Schoonover said. “They are a good hitting team, they fouled off a lot of pitches and I had some walks in there. I did throw a lot of pitches but I didn’t feel it until I was told.”

She came back out for the seventh inning and was able to power her way through, working out of a jam again in the final inning to preserve Kentucky’s first SEC win of the season. It’s a win that Lawson wants the Cats to enjoy and to build on.

“You’ve just got to keep going,” Lawson said. “We’re going to enjoy this win for a little while then we’ve got to come back tomorrow. Every day is a new day.”

As for Schoonover, despite throwing 181 pitches on Thursday night, she was still fired up after the game.

“A little tired but I’m ready to go,” Schoonover said. “Pitch me tomorrow, let’s go.”

Schoonover might pitch on Friday, but after her effort on Thursday night, she has earned a day off.

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