Texas A&M made a lifetime of wonderful memories at the Aggie Softball Complex, but the final game Sunday wasn’t one of them.
The ninth-ranked Aggies had several chances to leave the outdated park with a big bang, right up until the final swing, but couldn’t. Instead, 20th-ranked Kentucky scored the last two runs at the 24-year-old facility to eke out a 3-2 Southeastern Conference victory.
The Wildcats (26-13, 4-10) avoided a three-game sweep by making big plays and having the luck the Aggies often did in posting a 512-146-2 record at the park that opened in 1994.
Kentucky tied the game at 2 in the fifth on a solo home run by Mallory Peyton, who was batting only .218. The freshman hit an outside pitch from A&M senior starter Trinity Harrington that was aided by a strong cross wind as it sailed well over the right-field fence, staying just fair.
The Wildcats got the decisive run in the sixth. Senior Brooklin Hinz walked with two outs and scored on sophomore Alex Martens’ double as Aggie junior left fielder Keeli Milligan had trouble from the get-go with the fly ball.
A&M quickly was in position in the bottom of the inning to make Martens’ gift hit a moot point, getting help from a shaky Kentucky defense to load the bases with no outs. Senior Kristen Cuyos singled sharply to left field. Junior Riley Sartain twice failed to bunt, then reached on an infield hit. A&M junior Samantha Show bunted the softball so hard and high that hard-charging senior first baseman Erin Rethlake couldn’t make a leaping catch. The packed crowd of 1,496 was cheering its loudest, but the fans were soon frustrated.
A&M thought it had tied the game when senior Erica Russell was hit with a 1-2 pitch, as television replays showed, but none of the umpires saw the low pitch hit Russell’s foot.
“It’s unfortunate, that’s the tying run,” said Evans, adding that Russell told her she’d been hit. “I want to see the replay. [But] it’s part of the game.”
Kentucky sophomore pitcher Autumn Humes took advantage of the break by striking out Russell. Sophomore pinch-hitter Kelbi Fortenberry fouled off four two-strike pitches before lining a shot at Humes, who with quick reflexes made a bobbling catch, doubling Show off the bag at first to end the threat.
“There were a couple of little things that could have gone differently, and it would have been a totally different ballgame,” Evans said. “We have to catch that ball in left field because that was the winning run, so that is disappointing. We loaded the bases with nobody out and had every opportunity to win the ball game in the sixth inning, but we just didn’t get it done.”
Kentucky, which has played five straight Top 20 teams in league play, improved to 3-5 against Top 10 teams.
“I thought Kentucky stepped up and made some really big plays when they needed to,” Evans said. “They hit it out for the tying run, and that ball squeaked in fair. It is a game of inches, and today just wasn’t our day.”
A&M took a 2-1 lead in the third inning on a double by senior Ashley Walters that scored sophomore Sarah Hudek, who had singled, and senior Tori Vidales, who had doubled. Walters’ double chased Kentucky freshman starter Grace Baalman for sophomore right-hander Autumn Humes (8-5), who threw five scoreless innings. She struck out only two but didn’t issue a walk. Kentucky pitchers had walked 17 batters in the first 14 2/3 innings of the series.
Kentucky, which squandered a 3-0 lead in Saturday’s 4-3 loss, took a 1-0 lead Sunday in the second inning on junior Abbey Cheek’s RBI single. After regaining the lead, Kentucky had a chance for insurance runs in the seventh. Freshman Lauren Johnson and junior Katie Reed had back-to-back singles with one out to load the bases, but A&M senior right-hander Lexi Smith struck out the next two batters. Smith (7-2), who was Saturday’s winner, was Sunday’s hard-luck loser. She struck out five and walked one in two innings, but that walk led to the game-winning run on Kentucky’s second extra-base hit of the game.
A&M, which was 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position, stranded nine runners. Walters, who had two hits, had a two-out single in the seventh to bring up junior Kaitlyn Alderink who had the game-winning, walk-off single Saturday, but she popped up in the final swing at the Aggie Softball Complex.
“I think the game never really boils down to one play,” Vidales said. “I think there’s always a culmination of plays that make up the entire game so to dwell on one pitch or one at-bat or anything is not really something I’ve been taught when I was younger. I think we’re fine. We played well, we could have wished we had a little bit more hits or made a play, but that’s what the next game is for, trying to get better every day and hopefully go to LSU [next weekend] and take two from them.”
A&M, despite not getting a sweep, was able to move up in the league standings into third place behind sixth-ranked Florida (37-7, 12-3) and fifth-ranked Georgia (37-6, 11-4).
NOTES — Hudek has a 10-game hitting streak. … The Aggies have won three straight series after getting swept at Florida. … Walters has 48 career doubles, tying her for most in school history with Jennifer McFalls (1991-94) and Megan Gibson (2005-08). Walters had two RBIs in every game in the series, giving her 156 for her career, moving her into seventh place past Rhi Kliesing (2008-11) who had 154. Walters was 6 for 12 for the series… Former Texas A&M player Amanda Scarborough, a two-time All-American, threw out the first pitch. The ESPN analyst then called the game. … A&M will move into $28.6-million Davis Diamond for the Auburn series on April 27-29. A&M will exit the Aggie Softball Complex assured of making its 17th straight trip to the NCAA tournament. “It’s definitely bitter-sweet, knowing that was the last game,” Vidales said. “It’s a tough one, but to know we get to go across the streak and go to a new facility that’s being built for us, it’s definitely exciting to be able to move on to the next chapter.” … Peyton’s homer was her fifth. She had a hit in every game in the series, including a two-run blast in Friday’s 9-2 loss.