Kentucky defeats Southeast Missouri State to open homestand


Junior outfielder Oraj Anu slides safely into home during the game against Southeastern Missouri State on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

Eric Decker

The combination of sophomore Austin Schultz and freshmen John Rhodes and Drew Grace accounted for six hits and seven RBI in Kentucky’s 9-4 win over Southeast Missouri State.

Lefty Braxton Cottongame was on the mound for the Cats (1-3) and was looking to get the pitching going after a discouraging weekend from the staff down in Fort Worth. But he too fell victim to the early season struggles, going only 3.2 innings while giving up six hits, four walks and three earned runs. 

Kentucky had the chance to break this game open early when a fielding error and consecutive singles by Oraj Anu and TJ Collett gave the Wildcats bases loaded with no outs in the first inning. They were able to bring one across the plate when Austin Schultz hit into a fielder’s choice, but could not push another one in during the frame.

UK’s next run came in the third inning, also off the bat of Schultz. Anu was hit by a pitch to begin the inning, and found his way to second before Schultz came bat again. The second baseman drove a line drive into center to bring Anu home for his second RBI of the game.

In the 5th inning Schultz smacked an absolute rocket into the Kentucky bullpen for his first Home Run of the year, knocking in his third run of the game.

The Redhawks brought in three runs in the top of the fourth, but Kentucky responded quickly. A Jaren Shelby walk and John Rhodes single to left put Drew Grace in the box. He grounded lightly to third, but an errant throw by the third basemen led to game-tying score. Ellion Curtis then grounded into a fielder’s choice, giving UK a 5-4 lead.

The Wildcat bullpen was stellar closing out the game. In a combined 2.2 innings, relievers Cole Daniels and Alex Degen came in to strike out four. Degen struck out the side in the eighth, giving him eight K’s against 12 batters faced on the young season.

“My fastball has been super electric my last two outings,” he said after the game. “Those two pitches (fastball and curveball) coming out of the pen have really been good to me.” 

Kentucky tack on four insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, with Schultz again providing the spark. He followed a Coltyn Kessler double with one of his own, giving him a career-high four RBI on the day.

Degen finished off the ninth to pick up his first save and give the Cats their first win. Kentucky now looks to build a win streak as they wait for Appalachian State to come in for a three-game weekend series, starting Friday afternoon at 4 p.m ET. All three games will be broadcast on SEC Network+ and can be heard on the UK Sports Network.