Kentucky baseball earns first SEC win of season at home against Mississippi State


Travis Fannon

Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Darren Williams (5) pitches the ball during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 4-2. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Jonathon Bruner, Reporter

Kentucky Baseball (16-2) extended its winning streak to 12 games as it won an extra-inning battle in walk-off fashion in its SEC opener against Mississippi State (13-6) by a score of 6-5.

The Wildcat offense got active on the bases early with some help from the Bulldogs’ pitching.

Leadoff hitter Jackson Gray was hit by a pitch to open the bottom of the first before two-hole hitter Jase Felker drew a walk that got two runners on base quickly for the Wildcats.

Following the walk, redshirt sophomore Devin Burkes would scorch a single into left field, but it was hit too hard for head coach Nick Mingione to send home Gray to score.

Gray would not have to wait long to be at home plate though as sophomore Émilien Pitre was hit by a pitch to bring home Gray and make the score 1-0 for the Wildcats.

After a fly out, sophomore Ryan Waldschmidt singled to left and brought home Burkes and Felker to make it 3-0.

Kentucky Wildcats infielder Hunter Gilliam (14) runs down the first baseline after hitting a homerun during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Sunday, March 5, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 7-6. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

Then, redshirt freshman James McCoy laid down a sacrifice bunt to bring home Pitre and make the score 4-0 for the Wildcats after just one inning of play.

The Wildcats would be kept off the board until the eighth inning, where they found themselves down one run.

Waldschmidt opened the inning with a walk before stealing second after the second strikeout of the inning by the Wildcats.

Despite their backs on the ropes, the Cats weren’t done as senior Grant Smith would come through with a base hit up the middle that brought Waldschmidt home and tied the game at 5-5.

Finally, with a chance to walk off in extra innings, redshirt senior Hunter Gilliam came to the plate and hit a single into left field to give the Wildcats a base runner.

The Cats would use small ball style by having Waldschmidt lay down a sacrifice bunt, which would prove to be successful and advance Gilliam to second before he then advanced to third on a wild pitch.

Ultimately, the Bulldogs’ pitching would falter again as another wild pitch would bring home Gilliam and give the Wildcats the 6-5 walk off win. 

On the other side of the ball, Graduate student Darren Williams began the game on the mound for the Wildcats and went four and one-third innings. The veteran cruised through his first two innings of work but ran into some trouble in the third when he gave up a hit at the beginning of the frame before walking three straight to score a run for the Bulldogs.

Williams had a fairly clean fourth inning until he left a two-strike fastball right down the heart of the plate and it was sent over the right field wall for a home run. 

He then came back out for the fifth inning and got one out but then left the bases loaded following a single, fielder’s choice and a walk to end his evening.

His day finished with five earned runs on five hits and four walks to go along with a strikeout tally of three.

Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Darren Williams (5) pitches the ball during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 4-2. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

Redshirt sophomore Evan Byers then came into the game with the bases loaded and, unfortunately for Kentucky, a throwing error and a single would both result in three Bulldog runs being scored.

The failure to stop the bleeding would end Byers’ day without the sophomore even recording an out. Despite that, the runs would be charged to Williams instead of Byers.

With runners on second and third, sophomore Mason Moore would come to the mound, and he would strike out the first batter he saw then after a walk reloaded the bases. Luckily for Moore, he would add another strikeout to his total to get the Wildcats out of the jam. 

Moore then settled in and had a clean sixth, seventh and eighth innings before coming back out onto the hill for the ninth inning and recording two outs before surrendering a single and a walk, which led to him being taken out of the game.

Moore finished with four and one-third innings pitched, only giving up two hits and three walks while striking out seven. 

Seth Chavez would then come into the game with runners on and get out of the jam as he forced a groundout to stop the Bulldogs from scoring. He would come back out for the 10th inning where he would strike out the side.

Chavez finished as the pitcher of record, receiving a win for his efforts to bring his record to 2-0 on the year.

With the win the Wildcats will look to take the series and make it 13 straight wins tomorrow as they play game two against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday, March 17, at Kentucky Proud Park at 2 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed on the SEC Network+.