Cats closing in on record streak

By Laura Pepper

No matter what the weather conditions were at Cliff Hagan Stadium this weekend against Alabama or how long the rain delays lasted, the No. 4-ranked UK baseball team managed to keep its 18-game winning streak alive.

The Cats capped off a three-game sweep yesterday of Alabama in their Southeastern Conference series opener behind the offense of senior second baseman Ryan Wilkes and strong pitching performances.

After a rain delay Saturday and a delayed start time on Friday, the Cats had some relief from the erratic weather yesterday as the Cats (18-0, 3-0 SEC) cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Crimson Tide (9-8, 0-3 SEC).

With the win, the Cats are just one victory short of tying a school-record 19 straight wins, which they set last season. Wilkes was largely responsible this weekend for continuing the streak.

In the bottom of the fourth, Wilkes kicked off the inning a first-pitch home run to put the Cats up 4-0. The solo shot to center was Wilkes’ third home run of the season — all of which came during this weekend’s series against the Tide — and the most he’s hit in a season.

“I worked hard in (batting practice) trying to stay in the middle and everything, and I just got lucky and ran into a couple balls,” Wilkes said. “I just try to work the middle and hit line drives, but coach (John Cohen) was telling us if we created the right barrel angle the ball would fly out of the park, and that’s what we do.”

Over the three-game series, Wilkes was 5-for-9 with four walks, three RBIs, and six runs scored, all while extending his team-high hitting streak to 13 games.

“Wilkes has gotten progressively bigger and stronger, and I think he just made himself into a very good college hitter,” Cohen said. “And he takes a lot of pride in that, and he’s solidified that, and he’s done a great job offensively.”

Senior right-hander Greg Dombrowski (4-0, 1.27 ERA) cruised through the first, tossing a first-pitch strike and getting three straight ground ball outs. All of Dombrowski’s outs during his 5.1 innings of work came courtesy of ground balls and strikeouts, mostly from his trademark sinker.

The Cats began scoring early when senior right fielder Sawyer Carroll connected on a 1-0 pitch with two outs in the bottom of the first for his seventh home run of the season. The two-run shot over the right-field deck scored Carroll and senior first baseman Brian Spear.

Dombrowski ran into trouble in the top of the sixth, allowing two singles before senior pitcher Aaron Lovett got UK out of the jam with a double play.

Lovett walked three straight batters to load the bases in the top of the seventh, which called Cohen to bring in senior pitcher Brock Baber. The right-hander pitched the Cats out of the inning, getting three consecutive outs.

“(Baber) said, ‘I’ve done this before, and I want the ball, and I know I can get this done’ — and that’s exactly what he did,” Cohen said.

The sweep is the Cats’ first over the Tide since 1992. The victory also set up a chance at history Tuesday against Morehead State, when the Cats will try to tie last year’s school-record 19 consecutive wins in a season.

“The Southeastern Conference is so good,” Cohen said. “Any time you can bank some wins, it’s like every other sport in our league — every win in our league is golden.”