UK wins Sunday rubber match to secure second SEC series of the season


University of Kentucky senior Luke Heyer gets a hit early in the game against Louisville on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Charlee Schaefer

The No. 9 UK baseball team locked up its second SEC series win of the season on Sunday with a 10-5 victory in the rubber match against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The Cats has their backs against the wall after dropping game two on Saturday but came out victorious with the Sunday win.

“Three out of the four games (played this week) we pitched and swung the bats well,” head coach Nick Mingione said. “For us to be great, we’re going to have to keep moving forward but the way our team responded today after a tough loss yesterday says a lot about our team.”

In game two on Saturday, the Cats faced a devastating 15-1 loss.

Junior right-hander Zach Haake got the start but had issues executing his pitches, resulting in 10 runs before he was replaced in the fifth inning.

In the final game of the series on Sunday, the Cats hit back-to-back home runs in two different innings, something that had not been done since Riley Mahan and Troy Squires hit consecutive homers in the 2017 season.

The Cats wasted no time, and when the leadoff batter Tristan Pompey had a 2-2 count, he knocked a bomb over the Big Blue Monster in right field. The next batter in the lineup, Squires, hit a first-pitch shot to the same spot over the wall.

The Cats would hit back-to-back home runs again in the sixth inning when Luke Heyer and Luke Becker each hit homers. Heyer now leads the team in home runs with 13. 

Right-handed pitcher Justin Lewis took the mound and put his team in a position to win. Lewis pitched 5.1 innings on Sunday and gave up three runs and three hits and struck out four batters. 

The fourth inning was a bit wild as South Carolina’s pitchers walked a combined three batters, hit a batter, recorded two wild pitches and a passed ball that resulted in three runs. 

In the bottom of the eighth, Ben Aklinski hit a ball just shy of the wall in left field but settled for a sacrifice fly and gave the Cats a 10-5 lead.

Defensively, Trey Dawson made two impressive stops at shortstop that saved runs and extra-base hits.

“When you’re a pitcher and that ball is hit on the ground, when you feel like you don’t even need to watch to see if they’re going to make the play, that’s big,” Mingione said after the game. “He’s that guy.” 

“The second that ball is hit, the whole team goes, ‘oh he’s out,’” he said.

UK is now 22-10 on the season and is 5-7 in SEC play.

The Cats head to Cullowhee, North Carolina, on Wednesday for the midweek matchup against the Western Carolina Catamounts before they head to Athens, Georgia, next weekend to take on the Bulldogs.