LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kentucky rallied from a slow start and advanced to the winner’s bracket of the NCAA Tournament on Friday with a 7-2 over Toledo at Joe Cropp Stadium.
The Wildcats (34-22) will take on Virginia Tech at noon Saturday, with the winner advancing to the regional final and the loser playing an elimination game at 5 p.m. against the winner of the Toledo Illinois contest. The Hokies defeated the Illini 6-2 in the first game of a doubleheader to open the three-day event.
Kentucky fell behind early when Toledo crossed the plate with two runs in the top of the first, but Kentucky responded with four runs in the bottom of the inning. Abbey Cheek highlighted the inning with a two-run double, while Lauren Johnson also drove in a run.
Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said the hit by Cheek gave the Wildcats the momentum and erased a slow start in the top of the first frame.
“Those kind of things are what gives the team energy,” she said. “Everyone expects Abbey to get a hit … But when she came and she had that great slide (at third base), it was a lot of fun to watch. Those kind of momentum-building plays are what the postseason is all about.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Alex Martens connected on a home run — her 12th of the year — that pushed the Kentucky lead to 6-2. Kentucky added another run in the inning for the final margin.
Although Kentucky starter Autumn Humes allowed five hits and two runs in the first inning, Humes and Meghan Schorman surrendered just three hits the remaining six innings. Humes went five innings and scattered seven hits, She struck out three batters and didn’t issue a walk. Schorman faced nine batters in relief and issued a pair of walks.
"Toledo's a great team and obviously they've accomplished a lot of things to get here," Humes said. "They came out really aggressive and I think that me and my team made the adjustment to find our center and go out and be aggressive with them."
Johnson paced Kentucky’s offense with three hits, while Martens and Cheek drove in two runs each. Johnson said Toledo’s two-run outburst in the first inning served as a way-up call for the Wildcats.
"We're kind of an answer-back team, so whenever they put up two runs all of us came in dugout, we got together," Johnson said. "We were like, 'It's two runs. Every game this year we have scored a lot of runs and we have faith in our teammates."
Going into the second day of the regional, Lawson isn’t sure who will pitch in Saturday’s contest against the Atlantic Coast champion Hokies.
"I'm not really sure what I'm going to do,” she said. "I know Grace (Baalman) is available, I know Autumn's ready, Meghan (Schorman) and I also know the other two are available. Right now, Virginia Tech is a great pitching team. They're smart, they can hit the ball and to me I think I'm going to have to use multiple pitchers to make it through tomorrow."
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.