In a Mother’s Day marathon that lasted just over five hours due to an hour lightning delay, the Kentucky Bat ‘Cats (35-15; 15-12 SEC) reversed their weekend fortunes with a great start, leading to a 10-0 win over the Volunteers on Sunday to avoid the sweep and stay a game ahead of Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference standings.
An up-and-down regular season will commence next weekend when the Wildcats host the No. 7 ranked Florida Gators in Lexington at Kentucky Proud Park. The ‘Cats have all but wrapped up an NCAA Tournament bid and kept themselves in contention to host a Regional by avoiding a sweep this weekend. If they can take two of three or even sweep the Gators next weekend, their chances of hosting a Regional for the first time since 2017 will rise exponentially.
RHP Zack Lee got the start on the mound Sunday after an incredible 12-strikeout outing last weekend that earned him National Player of the Week honors. Lee cruised through the first two frames before the lightning delay, allowing just two hits and no earned runs while striking out three.
Wildcats Flip the Script, Jump Out to Early Lead
After falling behind 8-1 in both of the first two games of the series, the Wildcat bats finally got off to a good start, securing an early lead for the first time this weekend.
Jackson Gray, who D1Baseball listed as the 11th-best outfielder in all of College Baseball on Friday, kicked off the game with a single up the middle. Gray now has a hit in 18 of Kentucky’s last 19 games. After advancing to second on a throwing error on a pickoff by Tennessee’s Beam, Gray reached third on a Ryan Waldschmidt sac-bunt.
On just the second pitch of the at-bat, “The Captain” made his presence known. Hunter Gilliam demolished a fastball right down the middle for his 11th Big Blue Bomb of the season, giving Kentucky an early 2-0 lead.
Jase Felker continued the breakout Wildcat inning, singling up the middle to extend things in the first. With Felker on second following a successful steal attempt, a surging Devin Burkes doubled to center field, driving in Felker to extend the lead to three. Before the Vols could get a batter in the box, the Wildcats took a 3-0 lead and Tennessee trailed for the first time all weekend.
After Zack Lee fanned the side in the latter half of the first, the ‘Cats continued to add to their lead in the top of the second. Grant Smith, who had just three home runs on the season heading into the weekend series, blasted his second longball of the weekend to extend the Kentucky lead to four. After James McCoy struck out to end the top of the third, this game went into an hour delay due to lightning in the area.
A Little Bit of Rain Never Hurt Anybody…
As both teams emerged from their respective dugouts following the delay, Evan Byers took over for Zack Lee due to the large time gap between innings to begin the bottom of the third. This was no problem for the redshirt sophomore Byers however, as he forced a flyout to end the inning with two Vols on base. The Vols refused to take advantage of the departure of the red-hot Lee, leading to an even larger deficit in the fifth inning.
Ryan Waldschmidt kicked the fifth inning off with a bang, blasting his fourth Big Blue Bomb of the season to dead center field to increase the Wildcats’ lead to five. Tennessee center fielder Hunter Ensley didn’t even move.
Tennessee attempted to make two out rally after two out rally, but ultimately failed to get in the run column.
Devin Burkes, who is riding a six-game hitting streak after struggling through most of conference play, put this one on ice with a two-run home run in the top of the eighth. James McCoy followed Burkes’ two-run homer with a solo shot of his own for Kentucky’s fifth home run of the game. After trailing 8-1 on Friday and Saturday, the ‘Cats completely flipped the script and led 8-0 through eight.
What a difference a day can make.
Kentucky tacked on two final runs in the top of the ninth thanks to a Hunter Gilliam RBI sac-fly and a Devin Burkes RBI single. Mason Moore entered in the bottom of the ninth and shut things down, handing the Vols just their fifth home loss of the season.
The ‘Cats will be back in action on Friday when they host Florida in their final series of the regular season. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST.
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