By LARRY VAUGHT
Not only did seniors Katie Reed, Abbey Cheek and Jenny Schaper — all four-year starters — help Kentucky get to another Super Regional thanks to an 11-1 win over Virginia Tech Sunday, but the trio and their classmates changed the legacy of coach Rachel Lawson’s team.
“Prior to this class we were known solely for our defense and for our pitching. So we were that scrappy team, and I still want to be that team. I want to be that team that’s scrappy and plays defense and has hard-nosed pitchers and just tough people,” said Lawson.
“That’s what Kentucky – the state of Kentucky – is all about. We’re blue-collared people and that’s who we recruit and that’s who we are.”
However, Kentucky now has a potent offense — one of the best in the nation scoring runs this year — led by SEC Player of the Year Cheek and the always dependable Reed and Schaper. Lawson said this senior group came along at just the right time when the new UK indoor hitting facility and lounge opened to give the Cats access to year-round training in their own facility at a new stadium.
“The first year that we had the indoor and the lounge, everyone wanted to hang out in the lounge all the time because we had really comfy couches and we had snacks and they loved hanging out together. And they still love doing that, but they had to learn how to have the snacks, hang out and have a great lounge, but then you have all those moments during the day that they filled hitting in the cages all the time on their own,” Lawsons said.
“So what I love about this class is they learned how to use our resources and everything, and when you combine that with how awesome our strength and conditioning (program) is and when you combine that with how we’ve really made nutrition an emphasis, what it’s done is they took a lot of pride in becoming an offensive team.
“So you’re seeing all the facilities, the resources and just the character of people all blend into one, and we’ve become an offensive team that can pitch and play defense. And so I’m really proud of this class for being –- you know, I always think of a class in terms of the legacy they leave, and I think that’s the legacy this class will leave.”
Junior Alex Martens set a new single-season RBI mark — she drove in five runs Sunday to push her total to 68. She bats fourth after Schaper, Reed and Cheek. Kentucky has hosted a NCAA regional — and gone 9-0 — in her three years at UK.
“That is just an honor in itself in being a national seed and hosting and then setting and realizing your goals and going to Supers,” Martens said. “It definitely is one pitch at a time because we are mature and know what it takes. That is what really helps too is our maturing as players and as women.”
Virginia Tech coach Pete D’Amour’s team won the ACC regular-season championship but lost 8-2 and 11-1 to UK in the regional.
“First off, hats off to Kentucky. They’re a good team and winning regionals is not easy and they’ve done it I think four of the last four or five years,” the Tech coach said. “The league (SEC) is deep. There are no off weekends. You have environments like this every weekend. You’ve got 2,000 people screaming at you every weekend and it hardens you. So, this is the biggest crowd we’ve seen probably all year.”