Opening series games don’t often come easy in the SEC, and the Tennessee softball team’s contest with No. 18 Kentucky on Friday night was no exception.
After the No. 7 Lady Vols jumped out to an 8-2 lead, Kentucky (29-15, 6-12 SEC) stormed back to win 9-8 behind a potent offense that hit six homeruns against Tennessee (40-10, 10-9 SEC) in front of a sold out crowd at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
“Obviously we had one pitcher ready to go tonight,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We rode her as long as we could. We out-hit them. We score enough runs to win.”
That pitcher was junior Matty Moss, who pitched eight innings, recording four strikeouts while throwing a total of 180 pitches. However, the lack of depth caught up with Tennessee in the fifth inning.
“(Moss) showed a lot of guts,” Weekly said. “She stayed out there and showed a lot of guts. Hopefully we’ll have some others ready to go tomorrow. If someone’s not ready to go, they’re not ready to go. That’s really the whole story.”
After Moss held Kentucky scoreless in the top of the first, the Lady Vols’ bats heated up in the bottom of the first.
With the series marking Tennessee’s annual Senior Weekend, it was only fitting that Tennessee’s first run came from its RBI leader, senior shortstop Meghan Gregg. Gregg’s RBI single to first would plate a run from junior second baseman Aubrey Leach to give the Lady Vols a 1-0 lead.
Tennessee would score two more runs in the bottom of the frame thanks to a two-RBI double down the right field line from freshman first baseman Ashley Morgan that would score fellow freshman Amanda Ayala and sophomore Chelsea Seggern to close out the inning with a 3-0 advantage.
Kentucky’s Abby Cheek, who leads the Wildcats in homeruns with 14, answered with her 13th on the season down the right field line and over the wall to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Tennessee added to its lead again in the bottom of the second, with senior center fielder C.J. McClain reaching home on a fielding error by Kentucky at second base to go up 4-1.
The Wildcats had an answer for every Tennessee score, however, as Kentucky notched its second homer of the night on a solo shot over the wall in left center field to slice into the Lady Vols’ lead again, 4-2.
Tennessee would plate four more runs over the course of the third and fourth innings from a wild pitch to score Leach, an RBI groundout from sophomore Abby Lockman to score Ayala and a two-RBI single from McSwain to make it a 8-2 game.
Kentucky responded again with a four run top of the fifth that saw the Wildcats blast three straight homers to suddenly pull within two, 8-6 of the Lady Vols.
“I haven’t seen that many bombs since I was in the military,” Weekly said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault. We lose as a team.”
Tennessee had a chance to claim its third- straight opening-series win in conference play heading into the top half of the seventh, but Kentucky’s strong hitting came through in the clutch yet again.
With one on and just one out, Kentucky sophomore Alex Martens homered to left field to tie the game up, 8-8, and force Tennessee to try and win it in the bottom of the seventh.
After Tennessee failed to reclaim the lead, the Wildcats took their first advantage of the game in the top of the eighth on an infield RBI to third to go up 9-8. Subsequently, the Lady Vols could not get anything going in the bottom of the eighth and dropped only their second loss in the last nine games.
“Hats off to them,” Weekly said. “We get them down 8-2 and they come back and fought really hard. We’re still a good team.”
The Lady Vols will have a chance to even the series on Saturday when they face off again in game two. Weekly believes his team knows that in conference play, it’s important not to get too down over one loss.
“I think the (team) has a pretty good attitude,” Weekly said. “They scored a lot of runs. It’s just a tough league. There is no forgiveness. The grind starts to wear on you. I told them that you’re going to find out what kind of team you are tomorrow.”
The team will take part in Senior Day festivities on Saturday to honor four outgoing seniors in Gregg, McClain, Scarlet McSwain and Sheridan Allen, with the opening pitch set for 2 p.m.