Cats take series sweep over Tennessee with 5-3 win

By Derek Terry

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With the way UK’s bullpen has performed in recent weeks, a ninth-inning collapse after leading 5-1 on Saturday wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

It nearly happened as Tennessee plated two runs in the top of the ninth and had the tying run in scoring position. However, senior right-hander Spencer Jack was able to avoid disaster as he closed out the Volunteers to give UK the 5-3 win and series sweep.

It was the first SEC series sweep for the Cats since they beat Alabama in May 2012.

“To be able to win three and get back in the middle of the race is a huge shot of confidence for our kids,” head coach Gary Henderson said.

The three wins over the weekend put UK one game under .500 in SEC play and sixth in the conference standings with four weekend series to play. The Cats shutout Tennessee 5-0 on Thursday and followed up with a 3-1 win on Friday.

Ka’ai Tom and JaVon Shelby hit back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to put the Cats ahead 5-1. Tom was just 1-for-7 going into Saturday’s game, but bounced back in a strong way. The junior went 3-for-4 and had three runs batted in in the series finale.

When he hit his home run, Tom stood at home plate and watched it fly over the right field fence, which caused a reaction from Tennessee’s dugout. The pitch came from right-hander Kyle Serrano, the son of Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano.

Henderson was unhappy with the gawking by Tom, telling the junior that “we’re not interested in the drama.” But Tom said it was just part of the game.

“Of course they felt a little disappointed,” Tom said of Tennessee’s reaction to his home run. “But I’m just playing baseball and having fun.”

Andrew Nelson got the start for UK, striking out three batters over 4.1 innings of work.

Henderson was pleased with what the senior was able to provide in his first SEC start.

“I was pretty happy with that,” Henderson said. “I would’ve settled for a clean once-through (the lineup). To able to get through that and get to (freshman right-hander) Zach (Logue), I was just really pleased.”

Logue earned the win to run his record to 2-1. Junior Zach Strecker and Jack provided shutout relief appearances while Logan Salow allowed two earned runs in one inning.

Henderson said he likes the direction his pitching staff is going.

“I think we’re way advanced in terms of clarity and plan from where we were six or seven weeks ago,” Henderson said. “(The Cats are) much more confident. We did a nice job of pounding the zone early in the count. Overall, really pleased with the guys that came in out of the bullpen and threw strikes.”