Like so many other times this season, IU softball was right there with its opponent. Close games against then-No. 24 Fresno State and then-No. 25 Ohio State, among others, had promising starts and disappointing endings.
IU played a near-perfect first five innings against No. 20 Kentucky on Wednesday night.
Sophomore pitcher Emily Kirk allowed only one run to the Wildcats. Freshman utility player Katie Lacefield made a pair of sensational grabs at third base to keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard. Junior outfielder Rebecca Blitz hit three singles, picked up an RBI and scored a run, and IU led Kentucky 2-1.
Then the sixth inning happened.
Four singles, a walk and a pitching change later and the Hoosiers had lost their lead for good in what became a 6-2 loss to the Wildcats.
“I think we could’ve won that game,” IU Coach Michelle Gardner said. "A couple of unfortunate things happened, but I was actually very happy with my team."
For the majority of Wednesday night’s game at Andy Mohr Field, IU appeared to be the better team.
The Hoosiers wasted no time taking the lead. After an infield single by Blitz and a walk drawn by senior infielder CaraMia Tsirigos in the first, the table was set for junior infielder Taylor Uden.
Uden singled to the right side of the infield to score Blitz and give IU an early 1-0 lead.
“Our mindset was to go out and attack early,” Blitz said. “We can hit anyone.”
The Wildcats were quick to respond with a run of their own in the second. Senior outfielder Breanne Ray recorded the first of her three RBI on a single, and Kentucky put up three hits in the inning.
IU would eventually regain the lead in the fourth, though it could’ve done so earlier. Blitz’s second hit of the game, an infield single, moved freshman catcher Bella Norton to third base in the second inning.
However, Norton was caught with her foot off the bag and was tagged out to end the inning.
“We’re a good team," Gardner said. "We just have to get a break."
To the 427-person crowd, it may have seemed that break came when Blitz chopped a single to centerfield in the fourth to put IU up 2-1. The hit scored sophomore utility player Sarah Galovich, who was serving as a pinch runner for Norton.
The lead was preserved through the fifth by some remarkable defense from Lacefield. Lacefield hugged the third base foul line as Kentucky put runners on second and third with one out.
She made repeated backhand grabs, each followed by a cross-diamond throw at the hot corner, to get IU out of the jam unscathed.
“She was amazing,” Gardner said. “My whole infield helps us make plays that are going to win us big games.”
But the IU infield could only watch as Kentucky slowly pulled away with a three-run sixth inning.
After allowing two singles, Kirk was removed from the game in favor of sophomore pitcher Tara Trainer. Trainer allowed a pair of RBI singles to her first two batters before later walking in a run.
“I was trying to get a change,” Gardner said. “It didn’t work today. Hopefully it will next time."
Trainer only pitched one third of an inning, and Kirk returned for the rest of the game. Ray and junior catcher Rachael Metzger also picked up RBI in the seventh to cap Kentucky’s scoring.
The loss does nothing to damage IU’s ranking in the Big Ten standings ahead of an important weekend series with Maryland. The Hoosiers are now 19-25 overall and remain 5-9 in the Big Ten.
In fact, Blitz said the game can motivate IU.
“It definitely gives us encouragement,” Blitz said. “It’s just those little things that we can fine-tune, and eventually we can pull off a win.”