By Maren Angus
There are only a few players in college softball who have the ability to change the course of a game with one play. They command so much attention that all eyes turn to the plate when they are up or when they make a great play in field. Kentucky’s Abbey Cheek is one of those players.
“She has moments where she can absolutely take over a game,” said head coach Rachel Lawson. “She’s the player you want up to bat. You can feel the energy in the stadium because you know with one swing something amazing can happen.”
Through two seasons at UK, Cheek has 23 career home runs and 93 runs batted in. She is the first player in program history to hit 20-plus homers in her first two seasons and she led the team in runs scored (40), home runs (13) and RBIs (41).
It’s because of those numbers that there are high expectations surrounding the third baseman. Through the first 12 games of 2018, Cheek is batting .325 (13-for-40) with, a team-high, five home runs, 16 RBIs. 29 total bases, and a .725 slugging percentage.
Her numbers, relatively, stayed the same across the board offensively and defensively between her freshman and sophomore campaign but she was overlooked for All-SEC honors and failed to make the 2018 SEC Softball Preseason Team. Her freshman year, she was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
But, it’s not monster numbers that she is searching for. It’s consistency.
“I have to have good games throughout the season,” Cheek said. “I can’t be on one series and off the next. I think I got overlooked because of that. I just need to consistently make those big plays.”
Her offseason work has paid off as she has produced offensively in 10 of the first 12 games. Her largest offensive output came in the third game of the season against New Mexico State when she launched two home runs and collected five RBIs.
“Before, she was so worried about surviving and competing,” said Lawson. “Even in practice she took a competitive mindset instead focusing on getting better. Now, because she knows the difference, she’s able to hone in on one skill to add to her overall skillset and she can take that into a game.”
Lawson also believe she has one of the best third basemen in the country on her squad. Cheek has a career fielding percentage of .954 and has only committed 17 errors while playing the hot corner.
“She can play any position on the field but we have her at third because we want a quick third baseman and she’ll get in your face,” said Lawson. “She can also play shortstop or any other position we put her at.”
Cheek has also been working on her speed on the base paths. She doesn’t look to be a threat to steal but despite her physical stature, she can really move. Last season, she was top six in stolen bases for UK.
“I’m pretty fast for my size,” smirked Cheek. “People don’t think I’m fast but I get told I am. I stole a lot of bases before I got to UK and last season I was 8-for-9 but I’m going to have hit more singles or get walked to steal more bases.”
If there is one area that Lawson thinks Cheek needed improvement, it was leadership.
“She’s always had the tangibles but this offseason she worked hard to have intangibles,” said Lawson. “She had a great offseason and her mind is in a great place. Right now she is, by far, the player on our team that really changes things.”
Since 2009, the Wildcats have made the NCAA Tournament every year. However, they have only made it to Oklahoma City once (2014). With Cheek set to have her best year yet and joining an already experienced leadership core, UK is ready to return to the WCWS.