The University of Kentucky softball team got right down to business in its NCAA Tournament opener at Blacksburg, Va., on Friday evening.
Faced with a rare road weekend to open postseason play, the Wildcats took down Miami (Ohio) 15-1, setting up a matchup Saturday afternoon against regional host Virginia Tech.
The Hokies defeated St. Francis (Pa.) 4-0 Friday before Kentucky took the field against Miami in the four-team double-elimination event.
Kentucky (36-17) hit six home runs and totaled 16 base hits in finishing off the RedHawks by run rule in five innings. The victory avenged a 7-5 loss to Miami on March 16 in Oxford, Ohio.
“We came out swinging,” UK’s Erin Coffel said afterward. “Our mindset has been that we really have nothing to lose.”
The Wildcats scored four runs in the first inning and six in the second against Miami (39-16-1) to rapidly put Friday’s opener out of reach, banging out 10 hits in the first two frames. UK scored one more in the third and an additional four in the fourth.
Things started badly for the Wildcats, as Miami’s Karli Spaid led off the game with a home run to left field off Stephanie Schoonover but UK’s starting pitcher settled down and retired the side without further damage.
“When Miami hit that first home run, they really came out firing,” UK Coach Rachel Lawson said. “We could’ve gone one of two directions. We could’ve gone really tight in that game, but instead, I was really proud of Stephanie. She came up, she calmed down, she really started to pitch her innings.”
Schoonover (7-4) pitched the entire game for UK, limiting the RedHawks to three hits while striking out five.
Kayla Kowalik greeted Miami starter Brianna Pratt with a homer to left to lead off Kentucky’s half of the first. But that was only the beginning of Pratt’s troubles. Lauren Johnson singled up the middle before Coffel and Renee Abernathy smacked back-to-back home runs.
UK resumed its barrage in the second inning. Kowalik doubled and later scored on a Coffel single, forcing a Miami pitching change. Abernathy and Emmy Blane coaxed walks out of reliever Courtney Vierstra, to load the bags, and Meeko Harrison singled to drive in two. Taylor Ebbs then hit a three-run homer for a 10-1 Kentucky lead. Coffel’s run-scoring single in the third extended UK’s lead to 11-1.
In the fourth, Coffel and Ebbs each homered a second time.
Coffel finished her day 4-for-4 with seven RBI and three runs scored. Ebbs went 3-for-3 and drove in four. Kowalik also ended up 3-for-3 at the plate.
When asked about the importance of starting the regional with a win, Schoonover said, ““It was awesome. We have been calling this our revenge tour since we started. Miami beat us a couple months ago, but to come out today and really dig in was awesome. I’m really proud of my team.”
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.