By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky opens NCAA Super Regional play Friday night at No. 3 Washington and coach Rachel Lawson has to like that her first three hitters — catcher Jenny Schaper, shortstop Katie Reed and third baseman Abbey Cheek, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year — are all seniors playing in their third straight Super Region.
Lawson experimented with the lineup earlier in the season before deciding to go with the batting order she hopes can get UK to a second College World Series.
“What’s prompted that is Jenny Schaper really. Because if you look at her on paper, she should absolutely, positively not be the leadoff batter. Why? She doesn’t have the foot speed you want in a leadoff batter, she’s not a slapper, she’s a right-handed hitter,” Lawson said.
So why bat her first?
“Her presence and her mindset and just her ability to calm things down. I remember putting her in the leadoff spot. I remember the tournament I put her in the leadoff spot she did great and then I moved her out and put Kayla (Kowalik) back in there and it just didn’t feel right not having Jenny lead off the game,” Lawson said.
“Once I came to peace with the fact that Jenny was going to be the leadoff batter, then I started to figure out how do I stack people around Abbey.”
It helped that Kowalik, a freshman, became a proficient hitter in her first season against SEC pitchers and also a special outfielder after being a high school catcher.
“So I know it’s odd having a slapper (Kowalik) bat fifth, but she’s also an incredibly strong slapper, so she can slap it out of the infield,” Lawson said. “So basically once get through to Abbey and Alex (Martens), Kayla has the ability to do a lot of things, and if she’s not in an RBI situation, she can turn the lineup back over. So it was really prompted by Jenny.”