Kentucky natives lead Alabama past UK in top-10 battle
In a matchup of top-10 softball teams expected to contend for the Southeastern Conference championship, the University of Kentucky’s rally came up short against Alabama and its pair of stars from the Bluegrass State.
East Carter graduate Montana Fouts and former Madisonville-North Hopkins standout Kaylee Tow led the third-ranked Crimson Tide to an 11-6 victory over No. 7 UK in the first of a three-game series at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington on Saturday.
Fouts (10-3) was solid in the circle. The Grayson native went six innings and allowed eight hits and four runs while striking out nine. Fouts protected a big lead for much of the game before the Wildcats rallied for four runs in the bottom of the fifth to pull within 6-4. In the top of the seventh, Tow blasted a two-run homer to push the Crimson Tide advantage back to four. Alabama scored three more runs in the inning to take an 11-4 lead.
UK’s Kayla Kowalik led off the bottom of the seventh with a triple but was removed from the game after appearing to hurt her leg on the slide. Pinch runner Emma Boitnott scored on an error, then Mallory Peyton singled home Lauren Johnson to set the final score.
UK Coach Rachel Lawson credited her team for fighting back.
“I think the fact that we started to barrel up on some balls, that we were able to create some offense — I think that’s important for morale,” Lawson said. “It’s important for our energy level, and it kinda sent a message that we can play with Alabama.”
Fouts has become one of the best pitchers in college softball. She was SEC Freshman of the Year and a second-team All-American in 2019 and entered Saturday’s game with a career earned run average of 1.18.
Lawson saw good signs in the way UK battled back against Fouts.
“Of course, Montana Fouts is great,” Lawson said. “I was really pleased with how we started to put the ball in play hard as the game went on … Odds are (we’re) going to see her again.”
It was Fouts’ first game in Lexington since heading to Alabama for college, and it was her first win against Kentucky. As freshman, she took two tough losses against the Wildcats in Tuscaloosa.
Tow, who was voted Kentucky’s Miss Softball in 2017, is a two-time second-team All-American who as a senior has seized the clean-up spot in Alabama’s order.
Tatum Spangler (3-1) learned 90 minutes before the game that she’d be UK’s starter. She took the loss after getting the Cats off on the right foot, allowing one earned run and striking out two in 2 1/3 innings.
“Not gonna lie, I was a little nervous but then I got excited,” Spangler said of her mindset when learning she’d start. “(I learned) that I can do it, that I’m meant to be here because these hitters are very, very good.”
A socially distanced but sizable sellout crowd took in the action on a beautiful afternoon. The berm — the grassy hill directly behind John Cropp Stadium’s outfield wall — was packed with fans lounging in lawn chairs or on blankets. Through much of the game, a man flew a dual-line parafoil kite in the field behind the stadium.
UK (23-4 overall, 1-3 SEC) was coming off a 2-1 upset loss at Western Kentucky. Last weekend Alabama (26-2, 6-1 SEC) took two of three games from No. 21 Tennessee.
Fouts retired the first six Kentucky batters. Alabama took the lead with three runs in the third, aided by a Kentucky error. After Miranda Stoddard singled to become UK’s first runner, Fouts struck out three straight. Bailey Hemphill’s two-run homer made it 6-0 Alabama in the top of the fifth.
Rylea Smith had an RBI double, Peyton brought home Kowalik with a suicide squeeze and two Wildcats scored on a throwing error by Fouts during UK’s four-run fifth-inning rally.
No. 3 Alabama at No. 7 Kentucky
When: 3:30 p.m.
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Josh Sullivan has worked at the Herald-Leader for more than 10 years in multiple capacities, including as a news assistant, page designer, copy editor and sports reporter. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Lexington native.
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