Bat Cats off to best SEC start since 2012
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky is off to its best start in Southeastern Conference play in five years, shutting down No. 11 Ole Miss for the second consecutive day with a 4-1 victory and second straight series win. The Wildcats join the 2012 club with the best league starts in 25 years since the 1992 team began 7-0 against conference foes.
The No. 19 Wildcats (18-7, 5-1) proved their SEC-opening sweep at Texas A&M was no fluke, rebounding from a loss in the first game of the series to shut down the Ole Miss offense and win a pair of close games to take the series. Sophomore right-hander Justin Lewis matched Zach Logue’s outing from a night before, going 7.0 innings before handing the ball to righty Zach Pop and lefty closer Logan Salow to record the final six outs. Lewis joins Logue at 4-1 on the season after giving up just one run on seven hits. He walked none and tied his career-high with eight strikeouts.
As it did in the middle game of the series, UK got out of the gate with an early run and never let Ole Miss pull even. Sophomore outfielder Tristan Pompey doubled into the left field corner and scored on senior outfielder Zach Reks’ single to left one pitch later, sliding in under the tag at the plate. The Cats added another run in the fourth and two more in the sixth after the Rebels had scratched home a run to slice the deficit in half.
Lewis would not give in though and worked out of several small jams, keeping the Rebels off balance with his signature changeup. Pop worked a perfect eighth before Salow came on and struck out a pair of hitters in the ninth, earning his sixth save and running his streak of consecutive batters retired to 24 over his last seven outings.
The Cats, who are 12-1 at Cliff Hagan Stadium, return to action on Tuesday night against Cincinnati, who defeated UK 2-1 on an error in the 10th inning of their March 8 meeting in the Queen City.
AT THE PLATE
Zach Reks went 2-for-2 at the plate with two singles – the first was an RBI that drove in Tristan Pompey for the first run of the game. After a walk in his first at bat of the day, Tyler Marshall came through for UK with a crucial RBI sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth that scored Connor Heady. He later got things going for the Cats again in the bottom of the seventh inning with a hard-hit double to right centerfield that lead to two more runs for UK.
ON THE MOUND
Justin Lewis tied his career-high in strikeouts (8) in another swift performance. Lewis stayed focused throughout his seven-inning outing as he did not give up a single walk or hit a batter. Ole Miss was only able to get one run off the sophomore in the top of the sixth inning. Zach Pop came on in the eighth for a solid inning of work, retiring all three batters in the inning. To no surprise, the Cats turned to Logan Salow to end the game and the lefty picked up his sixth save of the season and struck out two of the final three Rebel batters.
Bot 1st – Tristan Pompey placed a hard-hit ball down the leftfield line for a double and later scored on single to left field from Zach Reks. UK 1, Ole Miss 0
Bot 4th – Riley Mahan led off the inning with a double into left field, which was followed by a single from Evan White. The bases were loaded after Troy Squires walked. Tyler Marshall stepped up to the plate and drove in Heady from third with a sacrifice fly into center field. UK 2, Ole Miss 0
Top 6th – Ryan Olenek singled to right field to start the inning and stole second base on the third strike of Tate Blackman’s at bat. Colby Bortles placed a ball in right field, scoring Olenek from second. UK 2, Ole Miss 1
Bot 7th – As the leadoff batter, Marshall doubled to right centerfield. Heady laid down a sacrifice bunt, while Connor Green – the Ole Miss pitcher – scored Marshall on a throwing error to first base when he was trying to nab Connor Heady. Heady then advanced to third on another sacrifice bunt from Marcus Carson and scored on a wild pitch. UK 4, Ole Miss 1
- The Cats are now 12-1 at home this season.
- The Cats’ 5-1 start in SEC play is the best since the 2012 team also started 5-1.
o Those two clubs are tied for the second-best start to league play since 1992, when that team won its first seven games on the way to an 8-1 start.
- Kentucky is now 8-4 against ranked opponents this season, having won eight of the past nine.
- Sophomore righty Justin Lewis earned his fourth win of the season.
o Lewis tied a career-high with eight strikeouts and did not walk a batter.
o Lewis now has five quality starts in six outings this season.
o In his past five starts Lewis has given up just 19 hits and six earned runs in 34.1 IP (1.57 ERA).
- Senior lefty Logan Salow earned his team-leading sixth save of the season.
o Salow has not given up a run in seven consecutive outings (8.0 IP).
o Salow has not given up an earned run this season (19.0 IP).
o Salow has gone 24 consecutive batters without allowing a hit or a walk.
o Salow has struck out 17 of those 24 batters.
Kentucky will look to atone for a 2-1, 10-inning loss to Cincinnati earlier this season when the Bearcats come to Lexington on Tuesday, March 28. Fans can listen on the UK Sports Network via UKathletics.com and iHeart Radio, as well as on 630 AM WLAP.. The game will be aired on SECN+.