Dramatic seventh-inning homer lifts Kentucky softball to within one win of regional title

·3 min read

Renee Abernathy hit a three-run home run in the top of the seventh inning to give Kentucky a 5-4 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday in the NCAA Softball Tournament at Blacksburg, Va.

The Wildcats improved to 2-0 in the double-elimination Blacksburg Regional, earning two opportunities, if necessary, to win the tournament on Sunday. Virginia Tech, the No. 3 overall seed in the 64-team NCAA Tournament, defeated Miami (Ohio) 5-4 late Saturday night to earn a rematch with the Wildcats on Sunday at noon. If Kentucky were to win that game, it would win the regional. If it were to lose, it was to have another chance at 2:30 p.m.

Just like in their 15-1 regional-opening win over Miami on Friday, the Wildcats fell behind quickly on Saturday. Meredith Slaw hit a grand slam home run off Kentucky starter Tatum Spangler to put the Hokies in front 4-0 in the bottom of the first inning. Spangler gave up a single and two walks to start the inning before Slaw’s home run. She allowed a single to the next batter, then retired the side in order, but that was as far as Spangler would go in the circle.

Alexia Lacatena, the UK freshman who played in last summer’s Olympic Games for Italy, blanked the Hokies (42-8) the rest of the way, allowing only two hits over six innings while striking out four.

Kentucky (37-17) was unable to take advantage of Lacatena’s clean slate until the top of the sixth when Taylor Ebbs hit her third home run of the regional with two outs to pull UK within 4-1.

The Wildcats pecked away at Virginia Tech starter Emma Lemley to the tune of six hits through six innings but looked to be out of chances by the time the game reached the seventh.

Vanessa Nesby reached on an infield single to get things started for the Wildcats and force a pitching change for Virginia Tech, with Keely Rochard taking over in the circle for Lemley.

Kayla Kowalik greeted Rochard with another single before Lauren Johnson struck out. Erin Coffel then singled to drive home Nesby to cut the deficit to 4-2.

Abernathy, who hit one of UK’s six home runs Friday, delivered again Saturday. The senior outfielder crushed an 0-1 pitch from Rochard high and deep over the right-field fence to put the Wildcats in front for good, 5-4.

Virginia Tech put the tying run aboard on a fielding error in the bottom of the seventh before Lacatena closed things out.

The winner of this weekend’s regional in Blacksburg will advance to a best-of-three super regional next weekend against the champion from the Gainesville (Fla.) Regional, which includes host Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and Canisius.

Renee Abernathy
Renee Abernathy
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