For second time in three days, UK scores elimination-game win at SEC baseball tourney

·4 min read
Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com

Kentucky is playing some of its best baseball of the season with its backs against the wall.

The Wildcats have now won two elimination games in the last three days at the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Alabama.

UK beat Auburn in a first-round elimination game on Wednesday afternoon, before losing to LSU early Friday morning in a late-night game that marked the start of the double-elimination round.

On Friday afternoon, again in an elimination-game setting against Vanderbilt, head coach Nick Mingione’s team kept its season going with a 10-2 win.

With its second victory in three days in a “win-or-go-home” game, Kentucky earned the right to play a third such elimination game.

Kentucky was to play either LSU or Tennessee on Saturday afternoon in a fourth-round elimination game in Hoover, with the winner advancing to the tournament semifinals.

This was to be the second game of the Saturday schedule in Hoover, and it had an approximate start time of 2 p.m.

This marks the first time since 2014 that UK has won multiple SEC Tournament games.

UK is now 32-25 overall this season.

Cats use small ball to take control against Vanderbilt

Despite Vanderbilt winning two of three games against Kentucky earlier this season ⁠— including a combined no-hitter against the Cats — Kentucky found success at the plate against the Commodores on Friday.

UK recorded 16 hits against Vandy, including multi-hit performances by John Thrasher, Daniel Harris and Chase Estep.

Ryan Ritter and Adam Fogel each had three hits.

This was the most hits in a game for UK since the Cats had 22 in an April 14 win at Missouri.

After the two teams traded runs in the second and third innings, UK took control of the game in the fourth and fifth innings, scoring two runs in each inning.

In the fourth, Thrasher perfectly executed a squeeze-play bunt with the bases loaded, which was followed by a sacrifice fly by Hunter Jump.

In the fifth, Ritter had an RBI single and Devin Burks scored Ritter from third with another well-placed bunt.

This small-ball approach helped UK establish a lead against Vanderbilt that the Cats wouldn’t relinquish.

Kentucky opened the game up for good in the seventh, with a five-run inning that saw the Wildcats score via a passed ball and run-scoring hits by Jump, Harris and Ritter.

Ryan Hagenow started and only went two innings on the mound for UK, allowing one run but getting out of a bases-loaded situation in the first inning.

Daniel Harper — making his 99th career appearance, second all-time, at UK — followed with three scoreless innings out of the bullpen.

A brief outing from Austin Strickland was followed by standout relief pitcher and Lexington native Tyler Guilfoil, one of the best relief pitchers in the country.

Guilfoil pitched the final 3 2/3 innings and earned the save, while Harper got the win.

As far as the NCAA Tournament goes, Kentucky is still projected to miss out on the 64-team tournament field.

But a couple more wins in Hoover would see the Cats reach the SEC Tournament championship game, and perhaps vault UK into the national tournament as well.

Next game

Kentucky was to play LSU or Tennessee in a fourth-round elimination game on Saturday afternoon.

The game was to be broadcast on the SEC Network.

This was to be the second game of the Saturday schedule in Hoover, and it has an approximate start time of 2 p.m.

The meeting between the Cats and either the Tigers or Volunteers was to be a de facto SEC Tournament quarterfinal, with the winner advancing to the tournament semifinals, which are single-elimination.

The semifinals were also expected to be played Saturday.

UK lost to LSU early Friday, and didn’t play LSU in the regular season.

Kentucky won two of three games at home against No. 1 Tennessee earlier this season. UK is the only team to win a series against Tennessee this season.

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