Wildcats end SEC losing streak with 13-4 victory over LSU


Kentucky junior Coltyn Kessler steps across home plate during the game against Norfolk State University on Saturday, March 7, 2020, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 11-1. Photo by | Staff

Eric Decker

Usually even keeled in his demeanor and appearance, Kentucky baseball head coach Nick Mingione was uncommonly fiery after the team’s series clinching loss to LSU Saturday night, their fifth straight loss in conference play. It hasn’t been often this season that Mingione has had to rip into his team after a game, but given UK’s recent stretch of play, doing so was warranted. We don’t know how effective it will be in the long term, but early indications are that it worked.

The Wildcats salvaged the final game of their weekend series against LSU with a much needed 13-3 victory, moving back to .500 in SEC competition. They were powered behind two-run home runs from the trio of Coltyn Kessler, Austin Schultz and Oraj Anu, demonstrating that Kentucky’s desire to succeed hasn’t waned despite the struggles.

“This team really wants to win,” Mingione said postgame. “In this league there’s going to be a lot of close games… especially our conference. We’ve been in a lot of games and this team wants to win.”

Schultz’s was his first long ball of the year, and allowed him to eclipse 100 career hits with his fifth inning single.

“It obviously felt good [reaching 100 career hits]. Time flies,” he said. “It feels like I just got here so that was awesome… [but to] just be able to celebrate with my teammates, that was best part about it.”

For Kessler, the homer represented another moment along his redemption tour. The senior catcher had an absolutely brutal chain of events that tarnished his 2020 season, compiling a putrid .089 batting average in 45 at-bats before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury sliding into second against Western Kentucky.

Coming back healthy, Kessler didn’t even know what his role on the team this season would be. Mingione and staff brought in Alonzo Rubalcaba as backstop competition, and he dazzled during the fall to earn the starting gig, leaving Kessler to serve as a backup. But Rubalcaba sustained a wrist injury in practice during the middle days of March, holding him out of action ever since. Kessler was inserted back into the lineup, and hasn’t wasted his second chance.

His on base percentage sits just above .500, largely due to his .415 average in 23 games. While some of the bigger names may garner the attention, Kessler has arguably been the best Wildcat bat this season and may be the most significant piece the team has right now.

“When we’re able to string quality at bats together and pass the AB to the next guy and keep passing it down that’s when we’re most successful,” Kessler said. “That’s when our offense is at our best.”

Sitting at 20-9 overall now, Kentucky next see’s Bellarmine come to Kentucky Proud Park for a midweek clash this Tuesday. The game is scheduled to start at 6:30 and be broadcast on SEC Network Plus.