Kentucky baseball explodes against Mississippi State to complete series sweep with 17-3 win


Isaiah Pinto

Kentucky Wildcats infielder Hunter Gilliam (14) warms up before at-bat during the Kentucky vs. Morehead State baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 15-1. Photo by Isaiah Pinto | Staff

Parker Scott, Reporter

Kentucky baseball (18-2) earned its fourteenth straight victory on Sunday against Mississippi State (13-8), winning by a score of 17-3 in seven innings.

The win cemented Kentucky’s first SEC series sweep since 2021, with the team going 18 consecutive series within conference play without a sweep.

Right-hander Zack Lee, a senior from Effingham, Illinois, earned the start on the mound for the Cats, seeking to remain undefeated on the season.

The Bulldogs singled to start the game but could not come up with any runs as a diving catch from senior center fielder Jackson Gray and a strikeout from Lee quickly shut down any scoring chances.

Kentucky Wildcats infielder Grant Smith (12) swings and misses during the Kentucky vs. Morehead State baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 15-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

A leadoff single from Gray and three walks promptly put Kentucky on the board, leading Mississippi State to make a pitching change before recording an out.

Nonetheless, redshirt senior Hunter Gilliam walked immediately afterward, driving in another run and putting the Wildcats up 2-0.

A fielder’s choice and throwing error by the Bulldogs then allowed sophomore Ryan Waldschmidt and Gilliam to advance two bases each and scored sophomore Emilien Pitre and redshirt sophomore Devin Burkes, both of whom had reached on walks.

It did not take long for Mississippi State to respond as Kellum Clark hit a triple and then scored on a passed ball. 

Neither team scored for the rest of the second inning, leaving the score at 4-1 in favor of Kentucky.

In the third inning Clark struck again for the Bulldogs with a two-run homer that cut Kentucky’s lead down to one run.

After starting the fourth inning with two walks, Lee exited the game and was replaced by senior right-hander Ryder Giles, who made his seventh appearance of the season.

The Pinehurst, North Carolina, native came in at a tough position in the game and, although the Bulldogs loaded the bases, he closed out the inning with his first strikeout of the game and fourth of the season.

The Cats got back on track at the plate in the bottom of the fourth with a leadoff home run by junior Reuben Church, marking his first and the team’s thirteenth of the season.

After going scoreless for the rest of the fourth, Kentucky made another pitching change to start the fifth, bringing in junior right-hander Austin Strickland, who entered the game with one win, and one save on the season.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione laughs with infielder Grant Smith (12) at third base during the Kentucky vs. Morehead State baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 15-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Strickland was able to pitch a scoreless inning despite allowing a hit and a walk and picked up a strikeout to finish the job.

Waldschmidt then tripled with one out in the bottom of the fifth and ultimately scored on a wild pitch to put the Wildcats in a great spot midway through the contest.

After senior Grant Smith singled and advanced redshirt freshman James McCoy to third, Gray hit a triple that brought both Smith and McCoy home, giving Kentucky a comfortable 8-3 lead.

The big hit was Gray’s third triple of the year, tying the record for the most triples in a season by a Kentucky player in the Nick Mingione era.

Not long after, after senior Jase Felker walked and advanced to second, Gray was able to cross the plate on a wild pitch. 

Mississippi State could not get anybody to score in the top of the sixth, although it left a runner on third at the end of the effort.

The bats of the Wildcats were on fire in the sixth inning, with eight total runs being scored.

Kentucky eclipsed the ten-run mark thanks to a two-run homer by Waldschmidt, his second of the year.

Not long afterward RBI doubles from Church and Gray brought in two more runs to make the score 13-3 in favor of the Wildcats.

Another run was added on top of that after Smith scored following a ground out from Felker.

The score then increased to 15-3 after Pitre hit a single to center field that allowed Gray to score his third run of the game.

The hot streak was capped off with a two-run home run by Gilliam, which extended his lead in the race for most home runs on the team with five.

Gilliam and Strickland were both promptly ejected from the game while celebrating the homer, ensuring both would face a one game suspension.

Redshirt sophomore Zach Hise was tasked with getting the final three outs for Kentucky to pave the way for a run-rule victory. 

A 5-4-3 double play got the first two outs for the Wildcats before a flyout brought an end to an impressive effort during the weekend series.

Giles earned his first win of the season, striking out one of three batters he faced in his 0.2 innings.

Kentucky will look to continue its win streak against Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday, March 21, at 6:30 p.m. at Kentucky Proud Park.