By LARRY VAUGHT
Sometimes what seems like little plays can have such a big impact on a game but not everyone always notices. However, Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson knew two first-inning base running plays by Abbey Cheek, the SEC Player of the Year, and Kayla Kowilak, a member of the All-SEC freshman team, were huge in UK’s 7-2 NCAA Tournament win on Friday.
Cheek stroked a two-run double in the bottom of the first inning with UK trailing 2-0 and then made a miraculous slide into third base even though the throw clearly beat her to the bag. After Kowilak walked, she intentionally got caught in a rundown between first and second base to allow Cheek to score what turned out to be the winning run.
But Kowalik, who has a ton of speed, stayed alive so long in the rundown that a Toledo error allowed her to safely reach second base and she scored on a single by Lauren Johnson. Kowalik also had a spectacular catch in center field later in the game.
“Those kind of things are what gives the team energy,” Lawson said about the first-inning base running plays. “You know, everyone expects Abbey to get a hit. But, when she came and had that great slap to the right, she does it all the time, but that’s the expectation right. So, when she slid into third and she avoided the tag, I thought that gave us energy.
“Then, immediately Kayla did a similar thing where she did a great move on the base, which allowed us to score. I think that allowed us to relax a little bit and it was a lot of fun to watch.
“Those kind of momentum-gaining plays are what the postseason is about. So, the fourth run was big, just being able to help us relax a bit was the key to that one.”
Later junior second baseman Alex Martens belted a two-run home run after striking out in her first two at-bats against Toledo.
“I mean, Alex is a great hitter, she’s also a great ball player because she is very mature and she has a great mind,” Lawson said. “The thing about her is if she fails or makes a mistake, she has the ability to pick herself back up. So, I didn’t do anything there, that was 100 percent all Alex.”