College softball: No. 12 Kentucky edges out No. 18 Missouri
With Kelsey Nunley in the circle, Kentucky’s offense doesn’t typically have to do a lot to win.
But against Missouri’s potent offense, that wasn’t going to be the case.
“We talked about it in our pregame,” head coach Rachel Lawson said. “We talked about how they are going to score their runs. They’re outstanding offensive team.”
The visiting Tigers jumped on UK’s ace for a run before the Wildcats even picked up a bat. When the Cats finally did, they made it count.
“I feel like we just came out ready to go and scored a bunch of runs,” Abbey Cheek said.
The Cats did plenty of pouncing of their own, touching up Missouri for six runs. Nunley wasn’t her usual dominant self afterward, but she got plenty of support in UK’s 7-6 victory.
The first-inning outburst equaled UK’s run total from all three of its games in a sweep of LSU last weekend. The No. 12 Cats (36-8, 12-4 Southeastern Conference) pitched shutouts in each of their victories, but proved Friday night they are capable of winning most any kind of game as they move closer to postseason play.
“It’s nice to see us be able to barrel up on some balls because in past seasons we didn’t put up enough runs in Super Regionals,” Lawson said. “So the fact that we can win games with our base-running, with our offense, with pitching and we’re getting a lot of great contribution offensively. Makes us feel a lot better moving forward.”
UK got hits from its first four batters, capped by a first-pitch three-run home run from Abbey Cheek. Two of her teammates – Brooklyn Hinz and Jenny Schaper – followed with home runs of their own in the frame.
“It was great because we haven’t done that in a while,” Lawson said. “So it was nice to see that we do have the sticks, that we can come and barrel up on the ball and we can hit the long ball when we need to.”
Cheek would follow with another homer on the first pitch of her second at-bat, giving her three home runs on the last three pitches she’s seen including her game-winning two-run shot on Wednesday against Eastern Kentucky.
“That’s never happened,” Cheek said.
The freshman has been key for the Cats in her first college season, starting all 44 games. She leads UK in both home runs (eight) and RBI (45) as the primary cleanup hitter.
“I just worked really hard and keep swinging and keep being behind my teammates and keep listening to them and playing hard,” Cheek said.
Some might see Cheek as ahead of schedule with the way she’s playing so early in her career, but not Lawson. She saw this coming and sees even more ahead.
“She has not been better than I thought,” Lawson said. “In fact, I think Abbey’s still got some in the tank. I don’t think she’s really showed us what she can do yet. We’ve seen glimpses of her ability, but I don’t think we’ve seen it fully. I think Abbey is arguably one of the best players in the country. If she continues to grow and continues to work hard and keep learning the game way she’s learning it, I think she’s going to be something special.”