By LARRY VAUGHT
Saying that coach Rachel Lawson is happy to have Autumn Humes return to the Kentucky softball team for an “extra” year is a bit of an understatement.
Humes was 5-0 with 21 strikeouts in 37 innings before the 2020 season was ended by COVID-19. She is taking advantage of a NCAA waiver that allows spring sports athletes to have an extra year of eligibility after this last season was cut short. Humes also hit .300 with four home runs and 15 runs batted-in
“She is not only an outstanding pitcher, but one of the best leaders on our team and she has done such a great job for us both on the field and off the field. She is involved in FCA, she is part of our leadership group, and I think that is going to be needed next year because in the sport of softball, because so many of the outstanding players across the country have chosen to come back and finish out their eligibility,” Lawson said.
“So because of that, you’re going to have a very unbalanced field of play for lack of a better word. You’re going to have some teams with 23-24 year-olds going against inexperienced teams having 19-year-olds on them.”
Two of UK’s key seniors, Alex Martens and Bailey Vick, have not made decisions about next season but Lawson is not expecting them back.
Right now, I don’t know how many we are going to have back. Autumn is the only one who has announced she is coming back and if she ends up being the only one, we’re going to need it because our senior class is very small with the three of them,” Lawson said.
Kentucy’s three seniors for next year not counting Humes will be Mallery Peyton, Lauren Johnson and Grace Baalman, all starters the last two seasons.
“They’re very quiet by nature. Mallory Peyton is a great leader and Lauren Johnson has done a great job and all three of them are capable of stepping up but if we don’t have that experience it could be a tough season for us,” Lawson said.
The Kentucky coach says Humes’ offense could be helpful along with her experience on the mound and leadership for younger teammates.
“I think the biggest surprise, she’s always been athletic and had an OK bat, but this year she really stepped it up on the offensive side, had a couple of grand slams and the thing was they were in key situations,” Lawson said. “They would pitch around Alex Martens, Mallory Peyton was having an outstanding season and Bailey Vick was getting on base all the time so Autumn Humes was coming up all the time with the bases juiced or at least runners in scoring position.
“Autumn absolutely, positively came through in a number of situations that allowed us to have the record that we had so we are going to need them next year because the hitters we are getting are left-handed and the fact that we have a right-handed bat back in the lineup is huge. So, when she’s not pitching, I assume she’ll still be in the lineup.”