Wildcats triumph over EKU in Kentucky Proud Park inaugural game


Kentucky redshirt junior Zeke Lewis swings at the ball during the season home opener against EKU on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Hailey Peters

In the historic first game played at Kentucky baseball’s new home, the Wildcats faced off against in-state opponent Eastern Kentucky. The Cats sailed past the Colonels and earned the historic first win, 7-3.

“You got to win the first one,” said head coach Nick Mingione. “Of course, you want to win all of them, but you got to win the first one… I wasn’t worried, but now I’m relieved.”

Pitching was one of the Cats’ standout strengths, holding the Colonels down and keeping them scoreless through the fifth inning. Starter Grant Macciocchi struck out six hitters and retired 14 in a row.

Field defense also played to Kentucky’s advantage, opening the game with a fierce double play and continuing to assist Macchiocchi in getting the Colonels’ hitters out and keep the Wildcats’ score untouchable.

The Cats scored their first run early off an RBI by sophomore Cam Hill in the second as junior Dalton Reed ran home, unearned, after scoring the first double of the game himself.

Kentucky picked up even more steam in the fifth inning. After two outs left the inning seemingly unpromising, senior Ryan Shinn singled to left field and stole a base off a throwing error from the Colonels. Following Shinn’s success, junior T.J. Collett homered to send both hitters home and to propel the Cats’ lead further.

“I’m happy it was him,” Mingione said about the fact that Collett scored the first home run at Kentucky Proud Park. “Being the captain… he told all the guys in the dugout, ‘I’m about to hit a home run’… and then he did it.”

The Cats’ dominance forced EKU to change pitchers twice, but Kentucky kept pushing. To finish the inning strong, junior Jaren Shelby stole three consecutive bases after being walked on his hitting attempt to score a fourth run, unearned.

EKU scored its first run in the sixth, eventually causing the Cats to change pitchers twice. In addition to striking out the Colonels’ final hitter after only three pitches, Kentucky responded with two runs of its own off a catching error with fully loaded bases, plus an additional by Shinn off a wild pitch.

The game concluded in a crawl, with the Colonels managing two more runs in the ninth as a tired Kentucky team slowed its pace.

“I don’t know if there was any pressure, but there’s definitely some emotion,” Collett said about the first game at KPP being a win. “We try to leave those losses in Texas Tech. We’ll say it was a fresh start for the rest of the season.”

The Wildcats will continue their home stand on Wednesday, Feb. 27, against Northern Kentucky at 4 p.m.