LEXINGTON, Ky. – True freshman pitcher Katie Henderson threw the ninth no-hitter in school history, striking out four batters with only one walk, while sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner went 4-for-4 with two home runs and a career-high six runs-batted in, as the No. 17/17 University of Kentucky softball team took down No. 24 North Carolina 18-0 on Tuesday at the UK Softball Complex.
Kentucky (19-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) broke countless school records in the game, but none bigger than Henderson’s no-hit performance. The native of Chattanooga, Tenn., allowed a two-out walk in the first inning and the leadoff batter for UNC in the second inning reached on an error before Henderson retired the next 12 batters she faced to clinch the no-hitter. All four of Henderson’s strikeouts came consecutively, striking out the side in the third inning and the leadoff batter in the top of the fourth inning. Henderson was also efficient, throwing only 58 pitches.
“It feels good,” Henderson said after the game. “I am not even for sure what to say right now. I was able to get my inside pitch going as well as my fastball, screw ball and changeup. I was a lot more relaxed [after UK jumped out to a 12-0 lead after the first inning] and just threw my game and didn’t have to worry about it.”
Henderson is now only the fifth player in school history to throw a no-hitter, joining current teammate Lauren Cumbess, along with Chanda Bell (2009-12), Rachel Riley (2009-12) and Amber Matousek (2007-10). It is the first no-hitter for a UK pitcher since Bell threw her fifth and final no-hitter in last season’s home finale against LSU. All nine no-hitters have come in the tenure of sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson.
The start in the circle was the second of the season for Henderson, who is now 2-0 with a 0.00 earned-run average. The rookie hurler has thrown 10 innings on the year, striking out 12 batters and only allowing one hit. Her previous start was a five-inning win against Howard in the Coke Zero Spartan Classic, where she took a no-hitter into the final inning before giving up a single with two outs.
“She has been getting a lot better and taking advantage of the time she has had in the bullpen and she came out ready today,” Joiner said about her battery mate. “She showed us how much better she has got. That was an impressive start for her, especially being the first time to start on our home field.”
Believe it or not, the Wildcats might have been more impressive at the plate in the game than Henderson was in the circle. After posting strong offensive showings in the final two games of the Ole Miss series, Kentucky broke out of its shell even more Tuesday, recording 18 runs on 17 hits, including four homers and a double.
The 18 runs and four homers tie the most runs scored in a game in school history, while UK’s 18 RBI sets the school record for most in a game. Entering Tuesday, Kentucky had scored 12 or more runs in a game 27 times in school history with the Wildcats reaching that mark in the first inning alone Tuesday. Kentucky’s 18-run margin of victory was also the largest in school annals.
Joiner was the leader of the pack Tuesday, posting a 4-for-4 night with career highs in home runs with two, runs scored with four and RBI with six. Joiner’s two homers in a single game marks only the 19th time in school history a player has accomplished that feat and the first since Samantha DeMartine had two roundtrippers against South Carolina on April 23, 2011.
The native of Hopkinsville, Ky., became only the fourth player in school history to earn six or more RBI in a game and the first since Riley had six against Austin Peay in 2011. Joiner’s four runs scored ties the school record for most runs scored in a game, becoming the first player since 2008 to earn that honor. For the season, Joiner is hitting .361 (22-for-61) leading the team in doubles with seven, home runs with six and RBI with 24.
“It is always good to have a midweek game because you can find yourself and get some momentum into the weekend,” Joiner said about her night at the plate. “I think that our entire team did that tonight and hopefully we can keep it rolling this weekend.”
Every starter recorded a hit for the Wildcats in the game while Joiner, Cumbess and freshmen Maisie Steed and Nikki Sagermann recorded multi-hit games. Cumbess blasted her third homer of the season in a 2-for-2 night with three runs scored and a RBI, while Steed went a season-best 3-for-4 with three runs scored. Sagermann was 2-for-3 with two RBI, while freshman Christian Stokes was 1-for-3 with a grand slam in the first inning.
Stokes, who was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week on Monday, has now hit safely in four consecutive games, becoming the first player since Megan Yocke in 2011 to hit a grand slam for UK.
Freshman infielder Ansley Smith entered the game in the third inning and collected her first collegiate hit with an RBI, while senior Kara Dill was 1-for-1 with a run scored and senior Alice O’Brien was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Junior Ginny Carroll had a hit and two RBI, while freshman outfielder Sylver Samuel was 1-for-2 with a run scored.
The win over the top-25 ranked Tar Heels was Kentucky’s sixth of the season against a team currently ranked or receiving votes in either the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 or USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25. The Wildcats started the season with a win over current No. 4/5 Cal, while it also has wins over No. 16/18 Stanford, No. 16/18 Washington, No. 23 Oregon State and USC Upstate, who is receiving votes in one poll.
UK has now defeated 35 ranked teams during Lawson’s tenure, including 20 top-10 teams and 12 top-five teams.
Before the game Tuesday, the Wildcats fell two spots in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 to No. 17, while holding its No. 17 ranking in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25. The high ranking comes after UK has earned a 19-4 record on the season, tying the best 23-game start in program history. The 2011 team also had a 19-4 mark after its first 23 games.
The Wildcats started the scoring with 12 runs on 10 hits in the opening frame – believed to be the most runs ever scored in a single inning in school history. After Steed struck out to start the game, Dill singled to the pitcher, advancing to second on a throwing error before coming home to score on the single up the middle by Joiner, who advanced to second on the late throw home. Cumbess then put runners on second and third with a single while O’Brien singled to leftfield to score Joiner and advance Cumbess to second. Sagermann kept the hitting parade alive with a single to right-centefield, loading the bases for Carroll, who would walk to score a run. Junior Emily Gaines then pinch hit for Samuel, getting hit by a pitch to bring home another run before Samuel reentered the game to run for Gaines. That set the stage for Stokes, who crushed a 3-2 pitch over the wall in centerfield, clearing the bases for her second homer of the season.
The Stokes homer rolled the lineup over with just one out with Steed getting another rally started with a double to left-centerfield. Dill then laid down a sacrifice bunt, advancing Steed to third before Joiner singled to leftfield, scoring Steed. After Cumbess walked, UNC made its second pitching change of the inning, bringing in Sara Buchholz, who got O’Brien to strike out swinging but reached first safely on a pass ball, loading the bases. Sagermann then singled for the second time in the inning, bringing home the 10th and 11th runs. Carroll ended the scoring with a RBI single to score O’Brien, giving UK the 12-0 lead.
UK got three more runs in the bottom of the second inning on back-to-back homers by Joiner – a two-run shot after Steed earned a one-out single – and Cumbess, a solo homer. The back-to-back homers made it 15-0 UK.
The final three runs of the game came in the fourth inning when Steed singled to start the frame before stealing second base. Smith then singled to leftfield to bring home Steed before Joiner hit her second bomb of the game to give Kentucky an 18-0 win.
Henderson made quick work of the Tar Heels in the top of the fifth inning, getting a groundout to short, fly out to rightfield and a grounder to third to clinch the no-hitter.
Due to the expectation of winter weather in the Lexington area over the next two days, the UK softball team has canceled its game against Southern Illinois on Wednesday. UK will now turn its attention back to SEC action when it travels to No. 13 LSU this weekend. The three-game set begins Friday at 7 p.m. ET followed by a 5 p.m. ET first pitch on Saturday and 1 p.m. ET first pitch on Sunday.