Kentucky’s national seed hopes may have come to an end tonight as South Carolina eliminated UK with a 3-1 win in Hoover. Kentucky committed three errors and had two men picked off of first on a night that UK struggled to find their focus. The BatCats finish with a 1-2 record in the SEC Tournament.
Things started out in a positive direction for the Cats. Tristan Pompey singled and Evan White reached on an error to leadoff the game. After Zach Reks bunted the runners over, Luke Becker grounded out to short to score Kentucky’s only run of the game.
South Carolina looked to answer in the bottom of the first as they put runners on the corners with two outs, but Justin Lewis shut the door with a huge strikeout to end the frame. Lewis paced UK today on the mound. His changeup and slider were excellent as he hit mid-90s on his fastball. He retired the Gamecocks in order in the second and third while striking out three in a row. On a day that there weren’t many positives, Lewis shined. Lewis competed harder than anyone has in this tournament and if not for him, this could have been a whole lot worse.
Kentucky’s offense never could get out of their own way in the middle innings. Becker and Zeke Lewis were both picked off of first base with no outs in an inning. The Cats went 0-9 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base in today’s loss. On defense, the Cats committed three fielding errors and allowed a runner to reach on a dropped third strike.
Despite much help from his offense, Lewis cruised into the sixth inning. The redshirt sophomore carried a no-hitter 5.1 innings into the game before Justin Row singled for USC’s first hit. After throwing three pitches to the next batter, Lewis was removed mid at-bat. It was a strange moment as Lewis had only thrown 87 pitches and had a pitcher’s count on the batter. Logan Salow entered and retired the final two batters to preserve the lead,
It was in the seventh when USC finally broke through. Pinch hitter TJ Hopkins lifted a three-run home run to left over the head of Reks to give USC a 3-1. It had been a long time coming. UK’s offense could never give their pitchers any insurance and it cost them late.
The Cats’ pitching allowed only two hits in the loss. Unfortunately for UK, one of them was the three-run home run by Hopkins.
“I’ve never been part of a game where you give up two hits and you lose. It’s unbelievable.” – Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione
– John Whittle (@johnmwhittle) May 27, 2017
Kentucky’s final opportunity to score came in the eighth inning. Reks and Becker both collected singles with one out. Mahan sent a ball to the warning track that was reeled in for the second out. Mingione and Chad Holbrook played cat and mouse with righties and lefties when UK put two men in scoring position. After Luke Heyer stepped out as a pinch hitter, Holbrook went to a righty out of the pen. Mingione then used T.J Collett as a pinch hitter for a lefty-righty matchup. A .095 hitter, Collett bounced out to second to end the top of the eighth.
UK would get the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but USC stomped out yet another rally as Tristan Pompey bounced out to first to end the game.
Kentucky is probably on the outside looking in at a national seed. Finishing 5-6 in the final weeks of SEC play won’t help the Cats. The committee will take the team that is hottest when it comes down to that final national seed. Right now, Stanford is looking better than UK heading into the final weekend.
Don’t quit on this team. UK failed to execute in a lot of big spots tonight and yesterday, but the box score doesn’t tell the whole story. The two losses could have just as easily been wins if things were to fall the Cats’ way. UK is coming off a ten-game road trip and will be fully rested for next week’s regional.