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ANALYSIS: Shutdown pitching performances propel Kentucky to sweep Alabama

Jack Weaver
Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Mason Moore (20) pitches the ball during the Kentucky vs. Evansville home opener baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 6-3. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

This past weekend over 10,000 fans attended Kentucky Proud Park as No. 17 Kentucky baseball held a high-scoring No. 13 Crimson Tide offense to three runs including a shutout.

Central Connecticut State transfer starter Dominic Niman etched himself into Wildcat history after pitching a complete nine-inning shutout, becoming the first Wildcat since Zack Thompson in 2019 to accomplish the feat against an SEC opponent.

An efficient and seemingly tireless outing recorded seven strikeouts, zero walks and 100 thrown pitches.

“So efficient, so efficient, so many innings (Niman’s) ramming the ball into the strike zone and just letting the defense work behind him,” head coach Nick Mingione said. “That’s when we’re at our best, that’s what we do, he’s an uber competitive dude.”

Ahead of Alabama’s trip to Lexington, the Tide averaged an impressive 9.1 runs per game this season with its fewest runs scored came against Tennessee with three runs scored.

Moreover, Alabama had seven starters with a .300 batting average or better, including third baseman Gage Miller batting over .400 for the season. The Crimson Tide had the fifth best team batting average in the SEC entering the series.

Graduate starter Trey Pooser has developed into Kentucky’s go-to Friday starter after beginning the season as a reliever and, against Alabama, the righty pitched seven innings, recording three strikeouts and only allowing two runs.

In the eighth inning, redshirt sophomore Travis Smith relieved Pooser to strike out two batters while allowing one hit and zero runs to complete a 6-2 victory to kick off the series.

On Sunday, Kentucky native Mason Moore got the start and, in seven innings pitched, struck out six batters, allowed four hits and only gave up one run.

Junior Jackson Nove relieved Moore in the eighth and the lefty allowed one hit, struck out two batters and prevented Alabama from scoring.

“It just feels good to know that we’re out here on defense and that whoever we have there on the mound is going to really compete and give us a shot,” first baseman Ryan Nicholson said. “So, I can’t say enough about our pitching staff as a whole.”

Over the weekend, Kentucky starters struck out a collective 16 batters across 24 innings pitched, which gave the bullpen a rest at large. Relievers only had to pitch four innings for the entire series.

Moreover, the Wildcats gave up the fewest runs of any series all season and recorded their first shutout since March 5 against Eastern Kentucky.

Currently, the Wildcats’ 3.42 ERA ranks third best in the SEC and second in the league with fewest hits allowed and opposing batting average with .204 this season.

Kentucky’s strong pitching performances has proven to be a massive contributor to the Cats sitting atop the conference standings at 11-1 alongside No. 1 Arkansas.

The Wildcats are fighting to host back-to-back NCAA Tournament Regionals in June for the first time in school history.

Kentucky baseball will travel to Auburn, Alabama, to face the Tigers in a series starting on Thursday, April 11, with first pitch scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

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