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Kentucky Loses 4-3 To Auburn In SEC Tournament Opener

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

The BatCats will have to go back to Lexington and await their fate for the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky (34-22, 13-18) lost 4-3 in 11 innings to #21 Auburn (38-19, 16-15) in the first round of the SEC Tournament. UK is now 0-4 all-time against Auburn in the SEC Tournament.

D1 Baseball had UK as one of their last five teams in the NCAA Tournament entering today. UK had the opportunities to help their case for reaching the postseason but struggled with runners in scoring position. The Cats hit 4/20 with runners on base and left ten men on in their 18th conference loss of the season. Sean Hjelle gave his team all he had, going 7.1 innings in a losing effort. Kole Cottam delivered two huge RBIs, including the game-tying knock in the ninth inning. But the amount of missed opportunities hurt UK late in extra innings. Auburn capitalized with runners in scoring position in the 11th when Edouard Julien hit a walk-off single to send the BatCats home.

Cottam did what he could to put UK into the field of 64 today. The junior first baseman hit a solo home run in the top of the first to put UK ahead 1-0. Cottam went collected three hits today, including his SEC-leading 18th home run. The 1-0 lead was short-lived. Former UK-commit Will Holland led off the bottom of the first with his 11th home run of the year to tie the game at one.

UK starter Daniel Harper did a good job of settling down after the home run, but his second trip through the lineup would cause him problems. Four straight batters reached base with one out in the inning as Auburn jumped in front. Steven Williams and Brett Wright drove in runs against Harper to give Auburn a 3-1 lead. Nick Mingione went to his bullpen for his ace starter Sean Hjelle with two outs in the third. Hjelle struck out Brendan Venter to end the third inning.

Hjelle would empty the tank on the mound today. Just five days removed from throwing 123 pitches at Vanderbilt, Hjelle threw 7.1 shutout innings in relief in the must-win opener. The Tigers had no answer for the 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year. Hjelle struck out nine batters and allowed only four hits in his first relief appearance of the season.

The Cats got an electric outing from Hjelle in relief, but they struggled to back him up at the plate. Before the ninth inning, UK hit 1/10 with runners in scoring position in the first eight innings.

Despite the rest of the lineup struggling with runners on base, Cottam delivered. The UK first baseman collected the biggest hit of the Cats’ season with two outs in the ninth. After Ryan Shinn doubled to start the inning, pinch runner Alex Rodriguez was bunted to third with the top of the order due up. Cottam hit a two-strike, two-out pitch into the game for a double to tie the game at three.

The tenth inning brought more scoring opportunities for UK’s offense. Luke Heyer led off the inning with a single and moved into scoring position with one out. Cody Greenhill retired the next two UK batters with ease as UK failed to deliver with runners on once again.

Hjelle officially emptied the tank after the tenth inning when he retired Holland on a long fly ball to left. Just five days after throwing 123 pitches against Vanderbilt, Hjelle threw 118 in relief today. Hjelle exited after the tenth inning and gave way to fellow starter Zack Thompson. The sophomore flamethrower struggled to find the zone in the 11th and put two men on with one out. Julien sent the huge Auburn crowd home happy with an RBI single to centerfield to win the game 4-3.

Auburn’s walk-off came two months after UK walked off against the Tigers in Auburn. Today’s loss will put the Cats on the bubble with no way to help their case. UK will play the watching game until next Monday.

Article written by Trey Huntsman

The KSR Baseball guy. Follow me on Twitter @TreyHuntsmanSEC.

13 Comments for Kentucky Loses 4-3 To Auburn In SEC Tournament Opener

  1. Catlogic15
    7:50 pm May 22, 2018 Permalink

    BatCats pre-season #6 and probably will not make the NCAA field.
    Can’t wait to hear Mingione’s “inspirational” take on this. Incredibly underachieving.

  2. JPGott2
    8:40 pm May 22, 2018 Permalink

    Yeah, this season is as bad as it could have been. So many pieces, yet soooo much failure. I support them, but they need to evaluate some things. If they do not make the tourney, they will have an interesting post season coming into the grand opening of the new stadium

    Even if UK makes the postseason, they will strand double digit runners on base and lose.

  3. UKInsider
    9:31 pm May 22, 2018 Permalink

    The team has 5 key contributors hurt and freshman were thrust into roles prematurely. If you want to place blame, you can only toss criticism at the lack of seasoned BP arms. Mingione and his staff are the best thing in Lexington since Cohen, so chill out with the mockery of expectations.

  4. Undeniable
    9:58 pm May 22, 2018 Permalink

    Barnie quick! Raise + Bonus + Contract Extension! 😉

    • shepdog3720
      9:47 am May 23, 2018 Permalink

      Well if it isn’t the fool spewing venom again…

  5. KYJelly
    11:11 pm May 22, 2018 Permalink

    I’m wondering if there is something behind the scenes that we don’t know about. They started out hot and then fell apart around the early-mid season. What worries me is it was around the time the Miss St talks started …

    • Jiminy Crickets
      9:34 am May 23, 2018 Permalink

      Might mean Miss St looks elsewhere for a coach

    • shepdog3720
      9:51 am May 23, 2018 Permalink

      My guess is Miss St looks about 70 miles west of Lex for their next coach. A proven winner (a decent guy) and a College World Series veteran.

  6. KentuckyVSEveryone
    4:22 am May 23, 2018 Permalink

    These are 18-21 year old KIDS! To quote some guy that coaches our basketball team, “these kids aren’t robots!”
    Baseball is a dubious sport. It’s not like basketball or football where the VAST majority of the time the most talented team wins, and slumps happen to the best players. It just so happened that a bunch of players fell into a slump at the same time! Oh and how many injuries did we have this year?! Too many to count! Did I mention we play in the best, most competitive league in the NCAA. I will always support my team!

  7. MrPioneer
    8:16 am May 23, 2018 Permalink

    To everybody acting like something is going on behind the scenes, I think it was actually pretty clear. Your number 4 hitter goes down with a season ending injury, your Saturday starter misses two months, and your Sunday starter misses the last two weeks of the regular season, along with your top 3 bullpen arms. This team just got hit with the injury bug at an unfortunate time. Stop making it more than what it is

  8. codeblue270
    9:27 am May 23, 2018 Permalink

    We have one of the best coaches in baseball- so back off – baseball is a fickle sport with injuries, slumps & freshman thrust into the limelight. Proud of this team listened to every game – this team brought me back to UK baseball ?

  9. Alleykat16
    9:57 am May 23, 2018 Permalink

    They started strong and crawled to finish. This team really didn’t finish a promising season very well. Is this an opening for coach to leave UK and go to Miss. St.

  10. dismore
    12:13 pm May 23, 2018 Permalink

    No doubt injuries played a big role in our season. I’m curious to see if Mingione can develop talent. Time will tell.