UK baseball heads west for Tony Gwynn Classic

Chris Angolia

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After a weekend which saw No. 22 UK Baseball go 2-1, the Cats are heading to California this weekend to take part in the inaugural Tony Gwynn Classic.

The Classic honors late Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn who passed away in 2014. It features eight programs from across the nation including hosts San Diego and San Diego State, along with Nebraska, Arizona, Bryant, Tulane, University of California, Santa Barbara and UK.

The Cats open up on Friday when they face off against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.

The Gauchos come into the game with a 4-1 record after sweeping a four game series against San Francisco over the weekend. They suffered their lone loss coming to Saint Mary’s of California on Tuesday. In those five games, the Gauchos put up 38 runs with a team batting average of .335.

Sophomore second basemen JJ Muno leads the Gauchos offense, hitting .400 with eight hits, four being for extra bases, and six RBIs on the young season.

Along with Muno, junior center fielder Andrew Calica is another vital part of the Guacho lineup. Early on, Calica is batting .389 with a homer and four RBI.

As for the pitching staff, the Gauchos are likely to send out junior right hander Shane Bieber who got the start for the Gauchos in their first game last weekend. Bieber pitched seven innings of two-run ball allowing seven hits while striking out four.

The Cats will counter Bieber with junior right-handed pitcher Zack Brown, who is looking to rebound after struggling last Friday against Wofford allowing four runs and nine hits in just three and two thirds innings.

As for the Cats’ offense, last Friday they ran into a buzz saw courtesy of Wofford’s Matthew Milburn, who struck out ten Cats over six innings. Milburn slowed the Cats down offensively, but when he was taken out after the sixth inning, the offense has since come alive.

Since Milburn came out of the game last Friday, the Cats have scored 25 runs in 21 innings led by JaVon Shelby and Tristan Pompey.

In last weekend’s three games Shelby went 8-12 with four doubles, two homers and three RBI. Pompey, who started Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, went 5-9, hitting three homers and six RBIs.

While Shelby’s early success is nothing out of the ordinary, the success of the true freshman Pompey is a bit of a surprise. While many expected Pompey to compete for a starting job, no one expected him to make this kind of impact this early on.

The way that true freshman Pompey swung the bat this past weekend will only raise his confidence level heading into this weekend. It will be key that Pompey along with the rest of the Cats lineup is confident heading into the matchup with UC Santa Barbara.

The winner of the matchup between the Cats (2-1) and Gauchos (4-1) will face off against the winner of San Diego State and Bryant on Saturday in San Diego.