UK defeats Florida behind Wijas’ Sunday performance



For the first time in the last four conference series, UK left the weekend a winner behind an unexpected but effective arm.

After having lost leads in the previous three Sunday Southeastern Conference games, UK (22-14, 5-10 SEC) grabbed a 6-5 win against No. 7 Florida (25-10, 10-5 SEC) on Sunday.

“We like winning on Sunday,” junior second baseman Chris Bisson said. “We would like to win on Friday and Saturday, too, but we’ll take it. And we beat Florida. We can beat anybody.”

With Alex Meyer, UK’s usual Sunday starter, out with mononucleosis, the Cats turned to freshman pitcher Walter Wijas on the mound. He entered the game as a question mark, having pitched only 8.2 innings in relief on the year and no more than two innings in a game.

“It was kind of like old times,” said Wijas, who was a starter in high school. “I was just throwing to the glove and throwing as hard as I can.”

But Wijas came out strong, mixing up his pitches and painting the corners. He retired the first 10 batters he faced.

“My fastball was moving a lot,” Wijas said. “It has some good action and was down in the zone, getting ground balls. It was kind of surprising, but I fell into a little groove.”

Bisson acknowledged the importance of someone stepping up in the absence of Meyer.

“For us not to have (Meyer) we could have easily thrown in the towel and said ‘This isn’t going to be good,’ ” Bisson said. “Walt said, ‘No, I’m going to carry the team for a couple innings.’  To get that from a freshman, if you look at the score, that’s a pretty good job.”

While Wijas was sending Gator after Gator back to the dugout, UK was sending Cat after Cat across the plate. UK tagged Florida starter Anthony DeSclafani for eight hits and six runs in the first three innings, giving Wijas a comfortable cushion.

“Playing against Florida, a freshman, anyone could have expected him to just say, I’m a little nervous,” said Bisson, who helped produce two of the early runs. “For us to get him some insurance, get him the confidence, it was incredible, and Walt did a great job.”

Florida threatened throughout the rest of the game, twice loading the bases but failing to score more than one run in either situation. The second time Florida loaded the bases, junior pitcher Nick Kennedy induced a ground ball to escape the jam.

“That’s why you win the game, the ability to drive in runs in that situation or the ability to get out of it,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “We’re talking about coming in and getting the ground ball double play or get the punchout, whatever the situation may be, those are the things that determine whether you win or lose.”

That was especially true in this game, as UK’s offense shut down after those first three innings as Florida started climbing back, posting a run in the fourth, sixth and eighth innings.

Suddenly only down three, Florida put a scare into UK in the ninth inning with a two-run home run by Josh Adams that closed the lead to one. But Matt Little escaped the potential comeback to pick up his sixth save of the year.

“The fact that it’s a one-run win is big,” Henderson said. “Not just a win on Sunday but to win a close one in the league is a big deal… I suspect the kids feel good about that.”