(Photo: UK Athletics/Sarah Caputi)
Just as Vanderbilt jumped on Kentucky in the first inning Sunday, so did the Wildcats Tuesday night, scoring five runs in the first inning and thanks as well to pinpoint pitching, cruised to a 12-1, run-rule victory in seven innings over Dayton at Kentucky Proud Park. UK pitchers struck out 14 and the Cats racked up 10 hits, including Chase Estep’s team-leading 12th home run.
“I liked the way we came out,” said coach Nick Mintione. “I thought (starting pitcher Magdiel Cotto) got us started on the right foot. He attacked the strike zone. The offense did a good job in the first. All throughout the night we had good, competitive at-bats.”
Dayton starting pitcher Cody Whiten struck out two of the first three batters he faced before the bottom fell out. The Wildcats (23-18) scored all five in the first with two outs. Estep followed up with his three-run shot an inning later (his 99th career hit) and then Kentucky capped off the scoring with a four-run fourth. Catcher Devin Burkes reached base all three times he came to the plate in just his second career start.
Meanwhile on the mound, Cotto fanned five in three innings and picked up the win; Wyatt Hudepohl added six in two innings and Jackson Nove struck out the side in his one inning of work. Evan Byers closed things out with a scoreless inning, the redshirt freshman from Lexington making just his third appearance of the season. UK pitchers have struck out 430 in 41 games, an average of 10.5 per game.
The win was a confidence boost following the series loss at home over the weekend to Vanderbilt.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries and this team has continued to have the next guy step up,” Mingione said. “We have five losses in the league by two or fewer runs,” including Sunday’s 5-3 series-clinching win by the Commodores. “We’ve continued to fight but we haven’t gotten over the hump and closed some of those games out.”
Kentucky has taken five of its six SEC series to the third game with a chance to win but has succeeded only once, against then 10th-ranked Georgia.
“We’ve had six SEC series,” Mingione said. “We’ve been in a position to win five of them. We’ve won one. Obviously, that doesn’t meet the standard but what does meet the standard is the way our guys have competed. They continue to compete and that’s something I appreciate about our team.”
UK will head to Florida this weekend in another Southeastern Conference series. Both the Cats and the Gators are 6-12 in conference play.
“We’re ready to get over the hump,” he said, “and win a couple of these series.”
Game one is Friday at 6:30 p.m. You can listen on the UK radio network with Darren Headrick and watch on SEC Plus.