By LARRY VAUGHT
On Friday, Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said she knew sophomore pitcher Grace Baalman would be “available” to pitch Saturday against Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament but wasn’t sure how her shoulder would be.
On Saturday, Baalman’s shoulder held up just fine as she went the distance in an 8-1 win. She allowed eight hits, struck out four and did not walk a batter.
Did Lawson know Friday that Baalman was going to be Saturday’s pitcher and hopefully put UK into the regional title game?
“Grace is an artist, so you really don’t know what you’re going to get from day to day. I knew she had been feeling good, but the thing about her (shoulder) soreness is she really hasn’t had a hard bullpen since the last time she was out,” Lawson said. ” So, we just spun things. She did a little bit more yesterday, but you didn’t know if she was going to get enflamed or what the case was going to be today. So I wanted to make sure that I waited for tomorrow.
“Obviously I planned for all our pitchers, including Grace, I was hopeful she would be ready today. And again when you’re playing a team like Virginia Tech you don’t know that the game is going to go that way so I had to prepare to play two games today and I think you have to go deep in the pitching staff. So anyway I had an idea she was going to pitch. I was hopeful she would pitch, but I really didn’t know.”
Baalman said she was “not really sure yet” how she felt after the game. Kentucky will play in the regional title game Sunday at noon for a berth in the Super Regionals.
“We’ll see how it feels tomorrow, but I’m hopeful that it’ll feel good tomorrow and I’ll be ready to help our team out tomorrow, too,” Baalman said.
The sophomore said she had no problem not learning she would start until a few hours before the game.
“It doesn’t really matter to me, all year we know a couple hours before the game. I think all of our pitchers are ready to go at any moment, so it doesn’t really matter to us. We’re ready to face any team that they throw at us,” Baalman said.
Kentucky struggled early against ACC Pitcher of the Year Carrie Eberle before getting the offense going.
“When we came out first inning, it was just bad. She really did such a good job. She mowed us over,” Lawson said. “What was so proud of our team for doing is they didn’t let that inning define the next inning or the rest of the game. What they did is they just learned from those at-bats.
“The people behind them positioned themselves better. They angled better. They were able to pick up the pitcher better. I was just really happy that they continued to stress it. They didn’t let things worry them. They continued to play their game and they stayed in the moment.”