Collett, starting pitching power Kentucky to doubleheader sweep, series win over Alabama


Kentucky Wildcat T.J. Collett (5) celebrates after hitting a homerun during the University of Kentucky vs. Murray State University baseball game on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 13-8. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Eric Decker

It had been a month since Kentucky baseball had won an SEC series, with their three-game tirade at Auburn during the end of March marking its first sweep in-conference since 2017. They had been 2-7 from then on in the SEC, quickly falling away the projected NCAA Tournament field as Alabama arrived in Lexington on Friday.

With only top-15 foes on the conference schedule to end the season – Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt – the pressure to take two of three from the Tide was immense. This series may have been the last winnable one of the year. This pressure reared itself in a disastrous performance Friday, where a number of critical errors fueled a 10-1 Alabama win. But Saturday’s rain out gave them an opportunity to refocus. And Sunday, they came out revitalized.

The Cats claimed both portions of their seven-inning doubleheader against the Crimson Tide, taking the first game 5-2 and the second 11-0 behind outstanding starting pitching and the big boppers in their lineup playing longball.

After moving into fourth place all time for career home runs at UK on Friday night, T.J. Collett smacked four more on Sunday, propelling himself into the list’s number two spot. Three of those homers came in consecutive at-bats of game two. John Rhodes tried his best to emulate Collett, going deep twice himself during the second game. Coltyn Kessler hit a homer in each leg of the doubleheader, including one to straightaway center field in the first victory.

Both starters on the day went at least six innings for the Cats. Sean Harney tossed six innings of five-hit, two run ball in the first contest before handing off to Hunter Rigsby for the save. Zack Lee then dazzled in game two, going the complete seven innings. He allowed only one hit – a single from William Hamiter in the first inning – but erased him with a double play ball. Lee improved his record to 4-3, and faced the minimum 21 batters in the outstanding effort.

Knowing they essentially had to take both games if they want to keep a reasonable hope of getting a regional bid, the veterans of this team took things personal, and carried the team to heights it hadn’t reached in its last three series.

Now sitting at 24-13 and 9-9 in the SEC, Kentucky still has to make up some ground in order to have an appealing case for a tournament bid. The remaining road, beginning in Knoxville next weekend, is brutal, but they need to handle business elsewhere too. Eastern Kentucky returns to Lexington on Tuesday. The Colonels will be seeking revenge for Kentucky’s 6-3 win from early March. It’s best the Cats don’t peek ahead.

First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. E.T. on SEC Network Plus.