Auburn’s four-run first inning proved to be the difference-maker in its upset over No. 12 Kentucky on Friday night. The Tigers won the opening game of the three-game series 5-3 for their fourth straight win.
Alyssa Rivera hit her first home run of the season, a three-run blast, while Shelby Lowe turned in her ninth complete game of the season.
“It’s huge moving forward,” Rivera said about the win. “Just got to take every game game-by-game and every pitch pitch-by-pitch and come out and just dominate.”
Kentucky’s Kayla Kowalik singled to begin the game, then stole second base, and the Wildcats had a runner in scoring position. Auburn’s Shelby Lowe retired the next two batters, but an infield single to second base with two outs from Lauren Johnson gave Kentucky an early 1-0 lead.
Auburn answered loudly in the bottom of the frame.
Two back-to-back walks with one out brought Lindsey Garcia to the plate for Auburn. Garcia hit a ground ball to the left side of the infield, where it deflected off of the third baseman’s glove and trickled into left field.
Tyler King rounded third and scored, tying the game at one. It wasn’t long before Auburn had the lead.
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Batting from the left side, Rivera brought the home crowd to their feet with a deep drive to the opposite field. It soared over the wall in left field and Rivera’s three-run homer propelled Auburn to a 4-1 lead.
“[The home run] was big for [Rivera], and as far as the game, it was a great momentum shift,” said head coach Mickey Dean. “It changed every look on their face, in our dugout and theirs, when that went out.”
Lowe ran into some trouble in the top half of the third, with the first two Kentucky batters reaching on an error and a single. It put runners on the corners with no one out in the inning.
With some help from catcher Abby Tissier, the freshman pitcher worked out of trouble. Lowe struck out the batter at the plate, and Tissier fired the ball to Makenna Dowell, who was standing at second base. Dowell caught the ball and applied the tag to Kentucky’s Tatum Spangler, who was called out on the attempted steal.
“Momentum came from that, that’s something that we needed,” Lowe said. “It’s really hard when you have a runner on base and you just gave up a hit. That just gave momentum to the defense and then they carried it onto the offense.”
Johnson lined out to left field and the Wildcats left a runner stranded at third.
“Being under pressure is not a big thing to me,” Lowe said.
Kentucky cut into the Auburn lead over the next two innings, putting a run on the board in the fourth and fifth inning. Renee Abernathy launched a solo home run to center field in the fourth, and Spangler had an RBI double in the fifth for Kentucky.
It was in that fifth inning, where Lowe worked out of her toughest challenge of the night.
With the Auburn lead trimmed to one, Lowe faced runners on second and third with no one out. After striking out a batter and a groundout that held the runners, Abernathy stepped into the batter’s box for the Wildcats.
Auburn elected to intentionally walk Abernathy, who had already gone deep, loading the bases to get to Autumn Humes. She struck out swinging, and the Tigers held their lead.
“[Lowe] grinded tonight,” Dean said. “I didn’t think she had her best stuff, she just grinded through it. It was pretty spectacular to watch.”
Maddison Koepke added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth with her two-out single, scoring Justus Perry. Lowe shut down the Wildcats' last efforts in the seventh, and the Tigers’ celebrated their fourth straight win.
“That sealed the game to be quite honest,” Dean said. “There’s a big difference between two and one. That run changed everything.”
Auburn is back in action Saturday at 11 a.m. CST for game two against Kentucky. The game will air on the SEC Network.
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