Teammates react after Renee Abernathy’s seventh-inning homer beat Auburn Sunday. (Vicky Graff Photo)
Kentucky was on the verge of losing its second straight series to start Southeastern Conference play.
Host UK trailed Auburn 4-1 going to the bottom of the seventh and was still down 4-2 when Renee Abernathy came to the plate with two runners on base Sunday to face Auburn ace Maddie Penta, who was 17-1 and had allowed only four home runs in 100 innings.
Penta came into the game to pitch to Abernathy after having beat UK 6-3 in a complete game performance Saturday. However, Abernathy had homered off her in that game.
This time Abernathy drove a ball to right center that was a no-doubter to give No. 8 Kentucky a dramatic 5-4 comeback win over No. 18 Auburn.
It was a little more stressful than we like but it was a fun game to play,” said Abernathy, who hit. 500 during the weekend series with three home runs and drove in 11 runs.
Abernathy said she was not “confident” she was going to end the game with a walk-off home run. She had already struck out twice
“But I was confident that I could hit this ball hard and continue the pressure we had put on,” Abernathy, a senior outfielder, said. “I was confident in the people behind me that no matter what I did, they were going to get it done too.
“It was nice that I had been able to see her (Penta) and it was not a brand new pitcher (she had not faced).”
It capped off a huge week for Abernathy. She had a solo home run against No. 1 Oklahoma Tuesday and then homered in all three games against Auburn.
“I would say this is probably the first time this happened,” Abernathy said about homering in four straight games. “I feel like my hard work is actually being shown now. It’s just nice that I can see the result. But just because I hit that home run today doesn’t mean I don’t have to work hard the rest of the week and have it all figured out. Ohio State (on Tuesday) is going to be good and they have really good pitchers.”
Abernathy is now hitting .338 with 23 hits, 22 runs scored, 32 RBI’s and eight homers in 29 games. She is tied with shortstop Erin Coffel for the team home run lead and is second in runs batted-in to Coffel’s 33 (Coffel had a solo homer Sunday). She has the team’s fourth highest batting average.
The senior was quick to credit her teammates for her success.
“I can’t get those RBI’s and get that walk-off home run without my teammates getting on base. I can’t forget that,” Abernathy said. “The start of that inning was all LJ (Lauren Johnson who doubled leading off). Without her, who knows how that game looks.
“We always say we have each other’s backs and that was the goal this weekend. It’s easier to play that way. It’s more fun, too.”
Kentucky(22-7) hosts Ohio State Tuesday and then has a three-game series at LSU starting Friday. The Tigers are 3-2 in SEC play and took two out of three from Alabama two weeks ago.
Abernathy said Sunday’s comeback win only adds to UK’s confidence.
“This just gives us momentum for Ohio State and that gives us momentum for the weekend. That’s what you need in the SEC because every game is like a postseason game and that will help us in the postseason,” Abernathy said. “We just have to keep this momentum going.”