Sometimes preseason predictions from coaches don’t always come true. But Kentucky softball coach Rachel Lawson certainly was right about junior Kayla Kowalik.
“She is probably the best leadoff hitter I have ever had here,” Lawson told me on WPBK-FM before the season started. She even added that Kowalik, a catcher/center fielder, had added the “home run ball” since last season ended.
After nine games, Kowalik is leading the unbeaten Cats in batting average at .613 and hits with 19 in 31 at-bats. She’s also leading the team in RBI (16), runs scored (18), home runs (4) and triples (3). She also has three doubles meaning 10 of her 19 hits have been for extra bases, also a team high.
In 84 games coming into the season, Kowalik had ZERO home runs. She did lead the NCAA with eight triples in only 24 games last year and is on that type of pace again
No wonder Lawson called her the best leadoff hitter she’s ever had.
“That is very flattering, I am a very confident person in my ability and skills,” Kowalik said before the season started. “Those are big shoes and big words to follow but I look at it as a challenge I can strive for.”
Strive for? She’s making Lawson look like a prophet which has not surprised teammate Mallory Peyton, a senior hitting .379 this season with three homers and 13 runs knocked in.
“Kayla is very confident in her ability. You can tell when she steps to the plate that she is going to town on you. There’s no holding back,” Peyton said. “She does what needs to be done. She can be ruthless and is definitely somebody you want at the top of your lineup and in the batter’s box.”
Kowalik has ignited an offense that has scored 107 runs in nine games and has three players hitting .552 or higher and three more hitting between .440 and .486.
Kowalik is no slouch on defense. She started in center field as a freshman before moving to catcher last year. She’ll play both spots this year and did in UK’s six weekend wins when she was 21-for-21 in putouts at catcher and caught both balls hit to her in center.
Her speed helps her as much in the outfield as it does in the batter’s box. She won’t say she’s the fastest player on the team nothing that Rylea Smith “rules that position” and Vanessa Nesby is “very tight” with Smith on the speed factor.
“We are all neck to neck,” Kowalik said. “I don’t think you can look at one person and think they are not a roadrunner. Everyone is athletic, very quick on their feet and reacts well to balls. Our entire team is very, very fast.”