UK baseball walks off for first SEC win


Senior Outfielder Luke Heyer slides into third and eventually scores on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky was defeated 8 – 6. Photo by Edward Justice | Staff

Charlee Schaefer

The No. 6 Kentucky baseball team opened SEC home play on Friday night with a 5-4 win, its first in conference play after being swept in Arkansas last weekend. As expected, the evening was a battle of the aces, but neither of the starting pitchers came out with the win.

With two of the best pitchers in the country starting the nightcap, it was expected to be a low-scoring, close game that came down to the very end, and that is exactly what happened.

The Cats recorded their first hits off No. 10 Auburn’s Casey Mize in the third inning. Mize was flawless through two innings and recorded five strikeouts through the first three alone.

“That is as good as a pitcher as we’ve faced in a long time,” UK head coach Nick Mingione said.

Mize has already pitched two complete games and a no-hitter this season, averaging 12.1 strikeouts a game. He recorded 12 in the matchup. Mize also came into the weekend 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA.

UK starting pitcher Sean Hjelle held off the Tigers until the third inning, when his defense took a little too long with a ball hit to the outfield, scoring one run.

The Cats quickly answered after Mize fell back in the count and allowed three consecutive hits, a rarity for him.

They scored again in the next inning on Luke Becker’s home run to right field that cleared the deck and a row of cars in the parking lot.

Hjelle’s day lasted until the seventh inning, when his command was lacking. Senior right-handed pitcher Alec Maley came in to minimize the damage. He only faced one batter and let a run score, Hjelle’s last earned.

The Tigers put three on the board in the next inning with a home run from their catcher Brett Wright, two singles and two wild pitches.

UK then turned to freshman right-hander Jimmy Ramsey.

Luke Heyer hit his 11th home run of the season and tied the game in the ninth, giving the Cats the chance at the club’s second walk-off win of the season.

Bullpen catcher Marshall Gei replaced Trey Dawson in the middle of an at-bat, forcing Auburn to go to its bullpen with a lefty. The Tigers didn’t realize that Gei is a switch-hitter, however, and a wild pitch brought the winning run to the plate.

“That guy sits there and just serves our pitchers all day long,” Mingione said. “You talk about student, person, player. Man, that guy has it all figured out.”

Davis Daniel will likely get the pitching start on Saturday or Sunday in game two of the series, as a doubleheader is likely because of expected inclement weather. It has been confirmed that Zack Thompson will not start because of injury.