By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman outfielder Kayla Kowilak has had a memorable first two days in her NCAA tournament debut for Kentucky.
She’s had two amazing catches in center field. She’s been daring on the base paths — except for getting hit by a sharp ground ball off Lauren Johnson’s bat Saturday. She had three hits Saturday and has four in two games in wins over Toledo and Virginia Tech. She’s scored two runs and driven in another run.
In Saturday’s 8-1 win over Virginia Tech, she had three hits and got UK’s first hit to jump start the offense.
“What I really try to focus on is I kind of go up with the same approach every time. It’s really just setting your vision. It helps a lot,” Kowilak a left-handed hitter, said. “Just starting with BP (batting practice) and start setting your vision, setting your goals and stuff like that. We had a really good scout, and we knew what to hunt for and that really contributed to our success.”
And what was she “hunting” for at the plate?
“I was hunting for just something that was mid-thigh in my zone, preferably outside. Luckily she hung a couple pitches I was able to capitalize on,” the freshman said.
Maybe the credit goes to her mother, Jennifer, and twin sister, Gabby, a starting outfielder for St. Louis University. They were sitting in the second row behind the UK dugouts when the Cats easily went down 1-2-3 in the first inning. Coach Rachel Lawson said the hitters got “mowed down” that frame.
Jennifer and Gabby Kowilak got up and headed out. They went to sit on the grass behind the center field fence and stayed there the rest of the game.
“After the first inning I felt we needed to change up the vibe,” Jennifer Kowilak said.
Whatever the reason, something changed. Kentucky got the bats going and won 8-1 to advance to today’s regional title game against Virginia Tech. A Kentucky win puts UK back in the Super Regional. A Tech win would force a second game with the winner of that game advancing.
Considering how the mojo changed when the Kowaliks changed locations, what will mom and twin sister do today?
“Already figured I was stuck on the berm for Sunday,” Jennifer Kowilak said.
Kayla, a .389 hitter this year, didn’t notice what her mother did to help change the game’s vibe.
“I don’t really pay attention to a whole lot of that stuff, but knowing my mother that is something that happened,” the UK freshman said. ” And if it works it works. I didn’t notice her, I noticed my sister out in center field.”
How unusual is it for her mother to do something like that considering the success the sisters had in state high school competition as well as national events?
“It’s something normal that she does,” Kayla laughed and said. “She just gets away just to take a breather and not stress out so much.”