Cats win home opener over Austin Peay 3-2

Chris Angolia

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UK Baseball came into Wednesday’s matchup with the Austin Peay Governors with a 3-3 record and struggling after dropping two of three games over the weekend in the Tony Gwynn Classic.

Head coach Gary Henderson turned to right hander Zach Pop to get the start on Wednesday. Pop went out and tossed 3.1 innings of shutout ball in his first start of the year.

Henderson was happy to see Pop pitch well.

“I felt great about it. I really did. I think we’re just seeing the beginning of Zach Pop getting better,” Henderson said about the sophomore.

The Cats were able to get on the board in the fourth when designated hitter Gunnar McNeill belted his second homer of the season, a solo shot with two outs in the inning.

The Governors responded immediately in the top of the fifth when Ridge Smith led off the inning with a solo shot. They would add another run later in the inning after Alex Robles drew a walk with the bases loaded, brining in a run to give the Governors a 2-1 lead.

The Cats went into the eighth trailing 2-1, but had the 1-2-3 hitters coming to bat.

Storm Wilson started the eighth with a single, but was cut down at second after first baseman Evan White attempted to move Wilson over with a sac bunt. JaVon Shelby was then hit by a pitch putting runners on first and second with one out.

Tristan Pompey followed Shelby with a sac bunt of his own, but Austin Peay pitcher CJ Burrow decided to get the lead runner instead of turning the possible double play.

McNeill stepped up after Pompey and ripped an RBI single, scoring Shelby from second and tying the game at two. Luke Becker then stepped in for Connor Heady and gave the Cats a 3-2 lead with an RBI single.

Becker has started the 2016 season well, hitting .368.

Such a big hit so early in the season will be sure to build Becker’s confidence moving forward as well as Henderson’s confidence in the sophomore.

“(Becker’s pinch hit) feels great. It sure does. To be able to have that type of flexibility on the bench, and have him come in and drive that in, that’ll help his confidence,” Henderson said.

Becker was excited about the opportunity to be able to come in and pinch hit in such a big spot after starting the first six games of the season.

“It means a lot, it really does, (Henderson) told me in about the seventh to start getting ready and I was ready so it was pretty cool,” Becker said.

Freshman Sean Hjelle was called upon to get the save in the ninth and he came out and did his job in just 13 pitches, giving the Cats the 3-2 victory.

McNeill continued his hot start in his first year in Lexington, going 2-4 with two big RBIs in the victory. Henderson has been pleased with McNeill’s start to the year.

“I’m really happy for Gunnar and obviously for us as well, but Gunnar didn’t have a great weekend,” Henderson said. “Gunnar is going to be a good hitter. He’s going to end up having a good season.”

The Cats return to action on Friday to take on Buffalo in a three-game series at the Cliff.