UK baseball swept in hard fought series at No. 9 UNC


Photo by Brian Westerholt.

Chris Angolia

In what was UK baseball’s first weekend series under new head coach Nick Mingione, the Cats were swept against No. 9 North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

For the Cats, facing a ranked team on the road was hard enough to start the season, but Tar Heel’s ace, and preseason All-American J.B. Bukauskas turned in a performance on Friday in game one that put UK in a 0-1 hole for the series after a 3-1 loss.

Bukauskas struck out 10 overall and allowed just three hits over six innings of work in the series opener to hand sophomore Sean Hjelle a loss in his first career start. Hjelle went five innings, allowing three runs on 11 hits with only two strikeouts. While Hjelle was dealt a tall task matching up against an All-American in his first career start, it was still a promising start and the struggles at times were expected for someone who has never started a college game before.

On Saturday, the Cats sent Zach Logue to the mound looking to even the series and jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, but unfortunately the Heels responded. UNC forced Logue to work and eventually chase him after just four and one-thirds innings of three-run ball. Despite allowing three runs, Logue was still dealt the loss as the Cats could not break through with an late-inning comeback.

At 0-2 after Saturday’s game, it was not the most ideal start for UK but for senior outfielder Zach Reks, it could not have been a better start for him at the plate.

Through two games, Reks was hitting a blistering .917 with seven hits including a double and two runs scored, but was the only UK hitter that finished the weekend hitting over .300.

UK’s opening weekend concluded on Sunday, as Justin Lewis was given the ball looking to help the Cats avoid the sweep, but Lewis struggled right from the beginning. Despite pitching into the third inning, Lewis was only able to work through innings, allowing five runs on four hits while walking three Tar Heel batters.

Even though the Cats found themselves in an early hole down 3-0, they would tie it up with a three-run third inning that included a Riley Mahan two-run home run. But as they did all weekend, the Heels responded with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the third to put them back on top 5-3. UK scored once more, and threaten numerous other times but could not break through, falling 5-4 in the finale.

Overall, the Cats’ three losses came by a combined four runs against a team that is projected to contend in 2017, and even though the starters went 0-3, there are positives to take from the opening weekend as a staff.

Two guys in particular, Logan Salow and Zach Pop showcased their improvements made in the offseason this weekend. Salow tossed five innings of scoreless ball on Sunday in relief and Pop went one and two-thirds on Saturday allowing no runs and was up to 97 mph on the gun.

The bullpen and the pitching staff as a whole are going to be a mystery for some time, but if this opening series is any indication, the bullpen could be better than expected and an inexperienced starting rotation is going to evolve. UK’s relentlessness all weekend was the biggest thing for the team and that is something that will help the Cats tremendously moving forward.

The Cats are back in action Wednesday Feb. 22 when they travel to Lynchburg, VA to face Liberty. First pitch is set for 3 p.m.