After getting swept at home the previous weekend, the angry, determined, and #9 ranked Ole Miss baseball squad came into Lexington on Friday looking to get back on track in SEC play. After dropping a 1 game series to EKU earlier in the week, the Cats were equally as desperate for a series win this weekend, in need for quality wins to secure a playoff berth.
Ole Miss has one of the most explosive offenses in the country this season with pro potential throughout their lineup. Their last game before the Kentucky series, the Rebels put up a season high 20 (yes twenty) runs against North Alabama.
But Friday night in Lexington when the sun went down, the weather became cold and so did the bats. Ole Miss struck first, picking up a single unearned run in the top of the first, following a throwing made by starting pitcher Mason Hazelwood. That would be the only run either team would score through the first five innings of the game.
The Cats had briefly tied the game at 1 apiece in the bottom of the fourth before the run was taken off of the board. Hunter Jump came around to score following a throwing error on Ole Miss, but after several minutes at the video review monitor, it was ruled that a Kentucky baserunner interfered with the throw, resulting in the end of the inning and the run no longer counting. The unearned run given up in the first and the interference call taking away a run will prove to be very costly.
Kentucky's pitching coasted through the next several innings, and they finally found some help from the offense after Chase Estep drove in Ryan Ritter in the 6th inning, this time officially tying the game at 1-1. But Ritter would be the only Cat to cross the plate all game.
Sean Harney almost pitched himself out of a jam in the ninth, getting a pair of strikeouts following a leadoff triple, but ultimately gave up the losing run on a single by Hayden Leatherwood. Missed opportunities at the plate and a pair of costly mistakes were the difference in this one for the Cats.
On Saturday, the Cats once again fell behind in the first inning after starting pitcher Darren Williams gave up a pair of runs. But that would be the only success Ole Miss found against Williams, or any UK pitcher, for the rest of the game. Williams ended the day with a stat line 6 1/3 innings pitched, 7 strikeouts, and only the 2 earned runs. Ole Miss did not score a single run from the second inning on.
The difference on Saturday was the Cats finally had offensive production to back their elite pitching. The star of the game was Jacob Plastiak who hit not 1, but 2 two-run home runs, both roughly 410 feet to dead center.
I promise, you are not having Deja Vu.
The Cats' offense did not let up on the Ole Miss bullpen, piling on 9 total runs and coming away with an easy and dominant 9-2 victory to even the series, also marking the 2,000th win in program history.
To this point in the series, Ole Miss - as previously noted, a very dominant offense - had really struggled to get anything going against Kentucky's pitching. The Cats' pitchers combined to give up only 3 earned runs through 18 innings across the first 2 games. Unfortunately, that success did not carry over to Sunday for the Cats.
The Cats had multiple opportunities to get ahead early and gain momentum, but were once again unable to execute and made costly mistakes along the way. Most notably, in the bottom of the first inning, the Cats had runners on first and third with only one out, but the runner on third was picked off, resulting in a scoreless inning. The Cats also had a pair of runners reach base in the second inning, but stranded both of them as well.
Then the Ole Miss bats finally came alive. The Rebels picked up 2 runs in the fourth and 4 more in the fifth, an inning that seemed like it would never come to an end. Chase Estep's solo home run in the fifth would be the only run the Cats would score all day.
Kentucky dropped the game 10-1 with Ole Miss winning the series 2-1. The Cats can't be too upset, still earning a win over a top 10 opponent on Saturday, but there were definitely plenty of missed opportunities to come away with a series win.
Luckily for the Cats, playing in the SEC means there will be plenty of other opportunities to earn wins over some of the best teams in the country. Kentucky has weekend series with Texas A&M, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Florida to close out the month, with all but Vanderbilt being on the road. But first Kentucky will take on in-state rival Louisville on Tuesday at Kentucky Proud Park.
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