Kentucky earns 2,000th win in program history in 9-2 stomping of Ole Miss


Kentucky Wildcats infielder Jake Plastiak (26) prepares to take a pitch during the UK vs. Morehead State baseball game on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 7-5. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Scott Clarke

Kentucky defeated No. 10 Ole Miss 9-2 on Saturday at Kentucky Proud Park, evening up the series at one a piece, earning win No. 2000 in program history for the Cats.

Darren Williams started for the Wildcats, while Hunter Elliott took the mound for the Rebels.

Williams had trouble in the first inning, giving up two runs. After a lead-off single from Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez, the Rebels were in business. With one out, Williams hit a Rebel with a pitch, putting runners on first and second.

Tim Elko singled to left field, scoring Gonzalez and giving Mississippi a 1-0 lead. A walk loaded the bases, then T.J. McCants hit a sacrifice fly, pushing the lead to two. Williams was able to limit the damage, inducing a groundout to end the inning.

In the bottom half, Hunter Jump led off the inning with a single but was quickly taken off the basepaths after being picked off at first. Chase Estep drew a one-out-walk, and Ryan Ritter followed with a single, which would have scored Jump had he not been picked off.

A failed pickoff attempt from Elliott allowed Estep and Ritter to advance a base. The error from Elliott would prove costly, as a wild pitch allowed Estep to score, cutting the lead in half.

Adam Fogel grounded out, ending the inning.

Williams settled down during the second inning, sitting the Rebels down in order and striking out the first two batters he faced.

The Cats were close to tying up the game in the bottom frame. Reuben Church was hit with a pitch, and a two-out double from Jump nearly scored Church, but he was held up at third base.

Estep grounded out, keeping the score at 2-1.

Williams sat down the Rebels again in order, striking out Elko to end the third inning.

Elliott was able to sit the Wildcats down in order in the bottom half.

Calvin Harris led off the top of the fourth for the Rebels, getting on base due to an error from Kentucky’s Daniel Harris IV. Williams was able to sit the next three Rebels down, keeping the deficit at one.

Elliott made quick work of the Cats in the bottom of the fourth, sitting Kentucky down in order.

Williams, fully locked in at this point, sat the Rebels down in order again in the top of the fifth.

In the bottom frame, John Thrasher tried to sneak his way on base to start the inning by bunting. A throwing error from Elliott allowed Thrasher to make it to third base, putting the Cats in prime position to tie or even take the lead.

Jump followed with a sacrifice fly, scoring Thrasher and tying the game at two.

That would spell the end of the day for Elliott, as Riley Maddox would take over the mound for the Cats.

He walked Estep to start off his day, and then hit Ritter with a pitch to put runners on first and second with one out. Jacob Plastiak moved the runners over with a slow groundout, putting the Cats in scoring position.

Alonzo Rubalcaba couldn’t drive home the runners, however, grounding out to short to end the inning.

Williams, once again, sat the Rebels down in order in the sixth. Throughout the inning he changed arm slots, throwing off Ole Miss’ batters.

In the bottom half of the inning, Fogel led off, but a poor bunt from Harris IV did not allow Fogel to advance. Church lined out to short and the chance for Kentucky to take the lead looked slim, until it wasn’t.

Up stepped Thrasher, who took an outside fastball the other way down the right field line, scoring a hustling Fogel. By the time Thrasher slid into third base with a triple, the Cats had taken the lead, 3-2. Jump provided an insurance run, singling up the middle and giving the Cats a 4-2 lead.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco had seen enough from the freshman Maddox, bringing in Derek Diamond.

Diamond struck out Estep to end the successful inning for the Cats.

To start the seventh, Williams sat the first Rebel he saw down via groundout. The next batter, Kemp Alderman, doubled down the left field line, ending Williams’ streak of retired batters.

Williams would then leave the game after that pitch, as trainers came out to see him after rubbing his arm in discomfort. Fortunately for Kentucky, Williams was seen pointing to his forearm and not his elbow. 

Daniel Harper took over for Williams and made quick work of the two Rebels he faced, sitting them down via flyout and strikeout.

After the seventh-inning-stretch, the Cats’ bats stayed warm. Ritter singled up the middle to lead off the inning, setting up a Plastiak two-run-bomb to dead center field, giving the Cats a 6-2 lead. That’s all the Cats could muster in the inning.

The home run was Plastiak’s seventh of the year, good for second on the roster only behind Estep.

Harper sat down the Rebels in the eighth inning in order, giving the Cats great pitching out of the bullpen.

Thrasher led off the bottom frame with a double, his sixth of the year.

Bianci would bring in Matt Parentau to try to keep the deficit at four. He started off his outing by throwing a wild pitch, allowing Thrasher to take third base.

Jump popped up to shallow left field, not deep enough for Thrasher to score. Estep, who had a slash-line coming into the game of .394/.500/.740 and a Barry Bonds-like OPS of 1.240, came through clutch again with a single up the middle to stretch the lead to 7-2.

After Ritter flew out, Plastiak blasted another two-out, two-run-bomb to straightaway center field, almost identical to his first home run just an inning earlier. The homer now tied Estep for most home runs on the year but more importantly, gave Kentucky a 9-2 lead.

Rubalcaba struck out to end the inning.

Harper sat down the Rebels in order in the ninth, not allowing a single Rebel to reach base in 2.2 innings, securing the 9-2 victory for Kentucky.

In a game where Kentucky went down early, both Williams and Kentucky’s bats got back on track quickly and put up nine unanswered runs against one of the nation’s best teams. Winning the series would be a big stepping stone for this team, especially after taking the Georgia series last weekend.

Kentucky (18-10, 3-5) will look to take the series on Sunday, April 2 at 1 p.m. EST at Kentucky Proud Park.