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Kentucky baseball loses game three, shares SEC title with Tennessee

Sydney Yonker
Kentucky first baseman Ryan Nicholson during the Kentucky vs Tennessee baseball game on Saturday, April 20, 2024 at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 9-4. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff

Missed opportunities on offense and shaky pitching cost No. 2 Kentucky baseball (39-12 22-8 SEC) in game three against Vanderbilt (35-20 13-17 SEC) by a score of 12-4. 

“Our inability to finish at-bats on the pitching and defensive side (and) our inability to make plays in the field really cost us,” Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said.

The first missed opportunity for the Wildcats on offense came in the first after Devin Burkes laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance runners to second and third, but Nick Lopez and Mitchell Daly struck out to end the inning.  

The Commodores jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the second after Calvin Hewett tagged Wildcat starter Mason Moore with an RBI double. Ryan Nicholson got that run back to leadoff the bottom half of the second after he hit a line drive home run over the right field wall to tie the game.

Vanderbilt responded right back in the top of the third as Davis Diaz led off with a home run which gave the Commodores a 2-1 lead. Its lead held until the bottom of the fourth when Émilien Pitre hit a line shot into the visitors’ bullpen beyond the right field wall for a game-tying home run.

Moore had worked in and out of trouble for most of his outing as he allowed a baserunner in every inning and he came out for the sixth and gave up two singles along with a one-out walk to load the bases, which ended his afternoon with Cameron O’Brien being the first out of the bullpen. He then surrendered a two-run single to Calvin Hewett, which gave the Commadores a 4-2 lead. 

The single knocked O’Brien out of the game for Jackson Nove, who came on and surrendered back-to-back RBI singles to Jonathan Vastine and Davis Diaz, which extended Vandy’s lead to 6-2. 

The Wildcat offense had a chance to respond as it loaded the bases with one out, but the opportunity was squandered  after Grant Smith grounded into an inning-ending double play.

”Sure, it’s nice to put up 10, 15, 17 runs every game, but their starter did a good job and the guys that came in behind him did a really good job minimizing,” Mingione said. “That’s hard to do against our offense, so give them some credit.”

Johnny Hummel prevented the Commodores from scoring anymore in the sixth, but in the seventh Matthew Polk doubled to bring home a run. Polk came home to score on two wild pitches from the righty, which extended the lead to 8-2. 

The Wildcats generated some offense in the seventh when Burkes scored on a double off the bat of Lopez to slim the deficit to 8-3, but the pitching struggles continued in the seventh as Zach Hise came on and gave up a two-run single to Alan Espinal, which extended the Commodore lead to 10-3. 

The Bat Cats plated a run in the eighth on a Nolan McCarthy single, which made the score 10-4 Commodores but Vanderbilt continued the offensive onslaught as Troy LaNeve hit a pinch hit two-run home run off of Cooper Robinson to extend the lead to 12-4. 

Ultimately, the Wildcats accumulated 12 hits, but left 10 runners on base.

”The regular season is over now, and now is, in my mind, the best time of year,” Mingione said. “The absolute best time of year when you get to play in the postseason.”

With the loss and Tennessee’s game three victory over South Carolina, Kentucky will be the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament. 

The Bat Cats will take the field next at Hoover Metropolitan Complex in Hoover, Alabama, for the SEC Tournament, where they will play on Wednesday, May 22, with first pitch scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET with their opponent still to be decided. 

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Jonathon Bruner, Assistant Sports Editor

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