Prior to this weekend, Kentucky had lost 10 of their last 13 games, including their last three SEC series. According to many college baseball analysts, the ‘Cats were inching closer and closer to the bubble. However, after a Derby weekend beatdown of the No. 3 ranked team in the country, the Bat ‘Cats have all but cemented their spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
Riding a masterful 12-strikeout performance from starter Zack Lee, Kentucky handed South Carolina their first series sweep of the season with a 9-2 statement win on Sunday.
Starter Zack Lee was the main story of Sunday’s win. In one of the final regular season starts of his Kentucky career, Lee set a career-high in innings pitched (6.2) and strikeouts (12) against one of the best offensive teams in the country. Kentucky’s starters made a loud statement this weekend, as Lee, Travis Smith, and Tyler Bosma combined for 16 IP, six earned runs allowed, and 20 strikeouts. The Wildcat pitching rotation seems to have hit its stride just weeks away from postseason play.
Per UK Sports Network statistician Corey Price, Kentucky’s 30 runs scored this weekend were their most runs scored in a three-game sweep of a ranked opponent since 2006 vs No. 19 Mississippi State (31). That is definitely a welcome sign as we head to the final stretch of the season.
‘Cats Grab Early Lead Once Again
For the third time in the series, the ‘Cats took an early lead over the Gamecocks.
Hot starts from the Wildcat offense got them on the right path for the series sweep in all three games. Jackson Gray was plunked on just the third pitch of the game, advancing to second on a balk by Carolina’s Matthew Becker. Hunter Gilliam was walked on four pitches, putting runners on first and second for Émilien Pitre.
Becker turned to pick off Gray at second but sailed it over the head of Carolina SS Michael Braswell. Gray raced home as Gilliam took third after Evan Stone mishandled the ball in center field. On the next pitch, Pitre singled up the middle to drive home Gilly, giving Kentucky a quick 2-0 lead.
Where Kentucky has taken an early lead in all three games, South Carolina has instantly responded in all of them. After allowing a lead-off single to Carson Hornung, Zack Lee made his only mistake of the game. On a 1-2 count, Lee hummed a pitch right into Dylan Brewer’s wheelhouse. Brewer sent it deep to center field for his seventh home run of the season. Brewer knotted things up at two apiece midway through three.
Three-Run Third Inning Propels Wildcats Back in Front
After knotting things up in the top of the third, Carolina’s Matthew Becker gifted the ‘Cats with two runs in the bottom of the inning to put Kentucky back on top.
Jackson Gray continued his heater, leading off the inning with a triple. Jase Felker grounded out to first on an 0-2 count, allowing Gray to dash home for the score. Becker had himself a rough latter half of the inning, making an error to allow Pitre to reach first and walking Ryan Waldschmidt to load the bases. Becker then plunked Reuben Church and walked Devin Burkes with the bases still loaded to bring in two more free runs for the Wildcats.
Suddenly, Kentucky held a 5-2 lead.
Are You Serious, James McCoy?
Cruising through the middle innings with a three-run lead thanks to Zack Lee’s outstanding performance, the ‘Cats increased that lead to five in the seventh inning thanks to unlikely hero James McCoy… again.
McCoy hit his third home run of the weekend (including the inside-the-parker) to put things out of reach for the Gamecocks. McCoy entered the weekend batting a lowly .202, but after going for 5-12 this weekend, he raised his average by 27 points to .229. The redshirt freshman is finally starting to show signs of what Nick Mingione and staff expected when he was promoted to the everyday roster this season.
A five-run lead just wasn’t enough for the ‘Cats, as they tacked on two more in the bottom of the eighth to extend the margin to seven. After back-to-back singles from Jase Felker and Hunter Gilliam, Ryan Waldschmidt ripped a two-run double to left center field to put a bow on an awesome weekend for Kentucky Athletics.
Series Sweep, Wildcats
Ryder Giles entered in the ninth and finished things out for the ‘Cats. With the weekend sweep of the third-ranked Gamecocks, Kentucky secures their first sweep of South Carolina and their first sweep of a top-five opponent since 2012.
Kentucky improves to 33-13 on the season and will be back in action on Tuesday when they welcome Tennessee Tech to Kentucky Proud Park. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST.
The post Kentucky Sweeps No. 3 South Carolina; Cements Spot in Tournament appeared first on On3.