The Saturday losing streak is finally over for the BatCats. #13 Kentucky (30-16) had lost the second game of a weekend series seven consecutive times entering today. The Cats ended that streak by beating Tennessee 10-3 today in Knoxville.
UK got big contributions from starting pitcher Zack Thompson and the majority of their lineup. Thompson made his first start since returning from injury and dominated against the Vols. The sophomore flamethrower struck out seven before he hit his pitch count following the third inning. Thompson and the UK pitching staff got more than enough run support in today’s streak-breaking win. Luke Becker and Troy Squires both hit three-run home runs as UK pulled away from Tennessee in the late innings.
Today’s game did not have the makings of a high-scoring affair early. The teams combined for two runs in the first five innings as Thompson and UT starter Sean Hunley battled on the mound.
Thompson would exit prior to the start of the fourth inning with a 1-0 lead courtesy of a Kole Cottam RBI single in the first inning. Daniel Harper did a good job of keeping the no-hitter rolling through four, but the fifth inning would bring trouble to the Cats’ bullpen. Harper allowed a pair of baserunners before giving way to Zach Haake on the mound. Haake would allow the tying run to score but managed to strand three runners to end the fifth.
The first five innings of today’s game were the polar opposite of the last four. UK had struggled against Hunley early, but they began to show signs of life in the sixth. With one out in the sixth, Hunley was called for a balk that moved Squires to second. UT pitching coach Frank Anderson and head coach Tony Vitello adamantly argued the call and were ejected as a result. After the dust settled, Luke Heyer singled against Hunley to put runners on the corners. The Vols went to the bullpen to face Becker with two on and one out. Becker hit a fly ball into the wind in left that flew over the wall for a three-run home run to give UK a 4-1 lead.
The excitement in the sixth would not end there. UT’s offense responded in the bottom half of the inning with a pair of runs against UK’s bullpen. When all was said and done, the Cats managed to hold onto a one-run lead heading into the seventh inning.
Prior to today, UK’s offense had averaged four runs per game in SEC road games. The Cats have struggled at times to score in the second game of a series, but that was no issue tonight. UK began to pull away in the top of the seventh following the rally by the Vols. After a run-producing error by UT second baseman Jay Charleston, Luke Heyer put the Cats back in front by three when he drove in his 50th run of the season with an RBI single.
UK kept the floodgates open against the Vols’ bullpen in the top of the eighth. Trey Dawson drove in a run on a sac bunt to extend the lead to four with two outs in the inning. With two on and two out, Troy Squires hit his fifth home run of the season to put the Cats in front 10-3 in the eighth. UK outscored the Vols 9-2 in the final four innings.
There have been times this season when UK’s bullpen has had issues holding onto leads. But once the Cats get a lead in the late innings, it is essentially over. Chris Machamer pitched 2.1 innings in relief before Brad Schaenzer tallied the final three outs as UK improved to 23-1 in 2018 when they have a lead after seven innings. Today was UK’s first win on a Saturday since March 10th against Texas Tech.
UK will look to win the series tomorrow afternoon at 1 ET. Justin Lewis will take the mound as the Cats look to climb up the SEC leaderboard.