Stephanie Schoonover (Vicky Graff Photo)
Maybe having assistant coach Grace Baalman taking over as pitching coach this season for Kentucky is going to be a genius move by head coach Rachel Lawson.
Kentucky opened the season 4-1 at the Azteca Opening Weekend Kickoff Tournament with two wins over No. 3 Stanford and one over No. 24 San Diego State because of its pitching staff.
The Wildcats allowed two runs or less in each of its first five games for the first time in program history.
In 36 innings, four UK pitchers struck out 37, walked 11, gave up 18 hits and allowed only eight runs. That combines for an impressive 0.58 earned run average.
Lawson decided this season to let Baalman, a former UK pitcher, take over the pitch-calling duties — except for senior Stephanie Schoonover because Schoonover was so used to working with Lawson.
Schoonover, the staff ace, won three of the five games and gave up only six hits in 15 innings. She struck out 19 and had a 0.47 ERA.
Rutgers transfer Jaden Vickers was as good as advertised with a 0.78 ERA in nine innings over two games. She allowed only three hits, struck out three and walked only one.
Alexia Lacatena struck out four, walked one and gave up just four hits in 5 2/3 innings over two games and got a save.
Freshman Sydney Langdon took UK’s only loss but had 11 strikeouts in 6 1/3 inning and gave up just five hits and one walk. She gave up two runs but both were unearned to leave her with a 0.00 ERA.
Kentucky’s offense was not overpowering as the Cats hit .235 as a team and only scored 14 runs in five games.
All-American shortstop Erin Coffel had one home run and a team-high 3 RBIs but hit just. 250 in the five games.
Vanessa Nesby led UK with a .333 average and four hits. Rylea Smith led UK in total hits with six and drove in three runs like Coffel. Grace Lorsung had a home run and freshman Ally Hutchins had two RBIs, including a game-winning RBI.
Kentucky returns to action Thursday when it plays North Carolina and Wisconsin in Clearwater, Florida.