Pitching holds strong but UK falls 4-2 against No. 14 Georgia


Kentucky Wildcat Mason Hazelwood (50) pitches during the University of Kentucky vs. Georgia State baseball game on Saturday, March 13, 2021, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 6-1. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

Kentucky (15-8) came up short 4-2 in its SEC home opener against No. 14 Georgia (18-4), despite strong showings from nearly all of its pitchers on Friday.

While the loss drops the Wildcats to 0-4 in conference play, it also provided a blueprint for the kind of performance UK will need from its pitchers going forward.

Junior Cole Stupp got the start for Kentucky, entering the game with 6.64 ERA and a 2-1 win-loss record.

While Stupp ultimately took the loss for the night, allowing three of Georgia’s four runs, he offered one of the better starts that Kentucky has had this season, especially against a team of UGA’s caliber.

He pitched 5.1 innings on the night, allowing five hits for three runs, including one two-run home run, with six strikeouts to 24 batters faced.

Stupp also deserves credit for his ability to dig himself out of a hole against the Bulldogs, most notably when he only allowed one run in the top of the second after loading the bases with no outs in the inning.

The ability to correct his own mistake as well as escape a high stakes situation has to be a promising sign for a Kentucky team that has struggled immensely with its starting pitching.

While 5.1 innings pitched is not the goal, Stupp was not pulled from the game due to performance but rather removed himself from the game after signaling to the training staff that there was an issue with his throwing arm.

“He felt something in his forearm,” Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said. “Something on the outside of his arm so obviously we’re not going to run him back out there, and we’ll get him checked out tomorrow.”

Stupp had thrown 98 pitches by the time he left, one of his longer showings of his career. He also walked four batters, a new career high, though not necessarily one he’ll celebrate.

Luckily for Kentucky, it had a pitcher warming up and nearly ready to go, having had a mound visit just a pitch or two before Stupp removed himself from the game.

“He had been throwing the ball good,” Mingione said. “That’s why we ran him back out there, we just want to make sure he’s okay.”

With Stupp out of the game, graduate student Mason Hazelwood took the mound in his relief, going on to pitch just one inning.

Hazelwood, despite the short tenure, still gave Mingione something to be optimistic about on the mound, loading the bases but still escaping the inning with no runs allowed, the second Wildcat to dig himself out of a hole.

By the end of his time on the mound Hazelwood allowed just one hit and walked two batters, striking out one batter with one run allowed.

Replacing Hazelwood after the earned run in the top of the seventh, courtesy of a fielding error by center fielder John Thrasher, Kentucky brought out graduate student Daniel Harper in relief.

Harper pitched 1.2 innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while notching two strikeouts against a total of seven batters.

Harper was replaced in the ninth inning by freshman Jackson Nove, who in turn was also quickly replaced by freshman Mason Moore.

Nove only secured one out in the inning before being pulled after walking a batter, though he was able to get his lone out from a strikeout.

Moore finished the job, striking out the final two batters in 11 pitches to end Kentucky’s night on defense.

While the bats were unable to capitalize, going down in order on strikeouts in the bottom of the ninth to end the game on a low note, Kentucky had a lot to appreciate in the loss, having been quite sturdy on the mound.

A critical piece of Kentucky’s said failure to capitalize in the batter’s box was Georgia starting pitcher Jonathan Cannon, who pitched seven innings with only four hits allowed and six strikeouts, all but silencing UK batters for the majority of the game.

“He’s going to be a top-20 pick [in the MLB draft],” Mingione said. “He doesn’t walk you, he’s got one walk on the year, and he had 37 strikeouts coming in. He just made a lot of really good pitches and he makes it hard on your guys.”

Cannon’s eventual replacement, Jaden Woods, fared just as well if not better, allowing just one hit with five strikeouts to close the game for the Bulldogs, and the pitching duel as the story of the night.

By the end of the night, UK pitchers combined to allow seven hits, just two after Stupp, for four runs, with two coming from the home run, and struck out 12 batters, with all five arms recording at least one strikeout.

Kentucky returns to play on Saturday, March 26, in game two of three against No. 14 Georgia at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington. That game is currently scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EST with Darren Williams the projected starter for the Cats.