Heartbreak in Hoover: Kentucky baseball season halted


Kentucky Wildcat John Rhodes (1) rounds first base during the UK vs. Western Kentucky University baseball game on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 6-5. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Barkley Truax

Kentucky baseball (29-23) ended their season Tuesday morning in game one of the SEC tournament in a losing effort to No. 9 Florida (36-19) 4-1.

Despite the loss, Kentucky finished with 11 hits, scoring one run with two errors while batting .289 (11-38). They’d would leave an astounding 14 runners on base in a losing effort against the Gators. 

“I thought we had our chances, especially offensively,” head coach Nick Mingione said post game. “You saw how many hits we had, we had guys in scoring position and unfortunately we didn’t cash in.”

Coming into the tournament, the ‘Cats dropped their last four series of the regular season, including two games out of three (7-5 W, 5-8 L, 2-9 L) to the Gators in early May. Florida also came into Hoover, AL losing five of their last seven, including a sweep by No. 1 Arkansas and a bad 6-1 loss to Stetson.

T.J Collett, the “mother hen” of this Wildcat squad, as described by Tom Hart, made the most of his first at-bat of his final SEC tournament, blasting a shot to right field that bounced over the fence for an automatic double, putting two runners in scoring position. The early hype for Kentucky was all for not as Florida’s Tommy Mace struck three Wildcat batters in a row to retire the side.

Mace would have his way with Kentucky in a quality start as he would pitch five innings, striking out eight batters, allowing seven hits (three 2B), one walk and one run on 94 total pitches.

The Gators decided to not waste a moment getting on the scoreboard as Jacob Young took Sean Harney’s first pitch of the morning swinging over the fence in the bottom of the first for an early one-run lead. Austin Shultz dropped a sure out early in the first, which gave Florida an extended at-bat long enough for Sterlin Thompson to hit an RBI-single to bring another run home.

Harney hit his fourth batter with a pitch in the game in the bottom of the fourth, allowing Florida to load the bases. Harney worked himself out of the jam, however, but Harney’s struggles on the mound Tuesday were apparent from the opening pitch. 

Kentucky had runners in scoring position in five of the first six innings, but remained scoreless halfway through the ballgame. They finally caught a break with a John Rhodes double that scored one run in the fifth, keeping two runners in scoring position with two outs. 

After a Jacob Plastiak walk, bases were loaded for the Wildcats but once again, Kentucky left runners on with little to show for it.

Cory Acton singled on Harney with the bases loaded in the fifth, bringing in the third Florida run of the day which would force Mingione to relieve his pitcher for senior RHP Daniel Harper. 

Harney would finish with 4.1 innings pitched, allowing three runs while throwing three strikeouts and four walks on 82 total pitches.

Harper inherited the bases loaded as he gave up a run on a fielder’s choice and Florida led by three runs at the end of five.

Kentucky pitched three in the eighth (Harper, Cole Daniels, Holt Jones) where they’d find themselves in a jam with the bases loaded but a spectacular grab from Cam Hill at the wall saved Kentucky from Florida running up the score. Despite the great play, Kentucky’s bats were stalled in the ninth and the Gators would take the victory.  

While the NCAA Tournament field of 64 isn’t set in stone as of May 25, it seems as though Kentucky will be on the outside looking.

“Obviously the committee has a tough job,” Mingione said about potentially playing in the tournament. “Obviously we didn’t win today so we don’t have any more opportunities to state our case.”

The Wildcats finished their season with 29 wins with a 12-19 SEC record and a 22-13 record at Kentucky Proud Park. Florida will advance to round two of the tournament to face Mississippi State Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. on the SEC Network.