Kentucky rebounds from Ball State series by beating WKU


Kentucky Wildcat Trae Harmon (33) runs to home plate 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

Eric Decker

The offense wasn’t dead; it was just waiting to manifest. And it did during the most intense situations for the Cats, helping them outlast Western Kentucky 6-5 on Tuesday night.

Ryan Hagenow came out firing just as he always has since first donning a Kentucky uniform. The freshman fanned another six batters in his first three innings of work. But after that is when things started to derail.

The fourth inning, plagued by sloppy throwing, was a disaster. Two wild pitches and a failed pickoff allowed a baserunner to move up bases and helped steer two runs in for the Hilltoppers. Hagenow also hit a batter before being taken out.

“We had two opportunities to get the first guy out and we didn’t get him out,” head coach Nick Mingione said about the fourth inning postgame. “That obviously leads to bad things.”

After coming in for Hagenow to complete the fourth, 6-foot-8 righty Holt Jones dazzled again. The Clemson transfer finished off two clean innings, giving up only two hits. He has yet to allow an earned run now through four appearances so far this season. Mingione sees him as a centerpiece to the bullpen moving forward.

“[Jones] is going to be absolutely key,” he said. “The beauty about Holt is that he can pitch multiple innings; he’s not just a one inning guy.”

Outside of a first inning RBI double from John Rhodes, the Cats again landed in a spot where they were unable to pile on runs. But a familiar face returned to the lineup and changed that.

In his first start since the 2020 season, Trae Harmon provided a vital boost for a team in desperate need of clutch hits. He jumpstarted a three-run sixth inning, providing the then go-ahead run with an RBI double to deep center field. After WKU rallied to tie the game in the next frame, the Somerset native ripped a ball throguh the middle of the infield to drive in the game-winning run.

“He’s had as good at-bats as anybody,” Mingione said about Harmon. “So today, we just decided to move Schultz to second, move Oraj to left and try to get another bat in the lineup… obviously that paid off.”

Strong relief innings by Austin Strickland and Sean Harney closed out the win for Kentucky.

With no game Wednesday, Kentucky goes until Friday before taking the field again, when they kick off a weekend series in Lexington with Georgia State. The Wildcats are the first unranked foe the Panthers, who faced a murderer’s row of competition over the first month, play in 2021.

Game one is set for 4:00 p.m. E.T. on Friday afternoon. It will be televised on SEC Network Plus.