Wildcats build 6-0 lead, ride Sean Hjelle’s strong start to advance to winner’s bracket
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky’s high-powered offense pushed across a pair of runs in the first inning and kept relentless pressure on Ohio throughout the game, defeating the Bobcats 6-4 in the opener of the Lexington Regional in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats (40-20) won the opener of the tournament for just the second time in program history, joining the 1988 club in advancing to the winner’s bracket after the first game. UK will face the winner of Indiana and N.C. State, which plays Friday evening.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play in the postseason a bunch, you have to win (the first game),” UK coach Nick Mingione said. “You can come back after not winning the first game but, boy, does it make your life a lot easier (to win).”
Drawing energy from a home crowd of 3,956 fans on a glorious afternoon, the Cats mounted a two-out rally in the first inning, plating two runs to claim an early lead. Despite leaving 15 runners on base in the game the Cats pushed across single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, and a pair in the sixth to run up a 6-0 lead.
Ohio (31-27) sliced the lead in half on Rudy Rott’s three-run home run over the extended-height right-field wall in the eighth inning, ending starter Sean Hjelle’s outing. The sophomore right-hander, who was recently named SEC Pitcher of the Year, gave up eight hits and three runs in 7.0 innings, the eighth time in his last nine starts he’s allowed three runs or less.
Freshman righty Chris Machamer closed out the eighth and senior lefty Logan Salow recorded his 11th save of the season, moving him within one of tying Trevor Gott for the all-time single-season UK record.
Offensively, junior second baseman Riley Mahan broke out of a tough spell with three hits, including a pair of RBI singles, to lead an attack that saw all nine starters record a hit.
Bot 1st – With two outs, Zach Reks doubled to RCF. Luke Becker singled to RF, which scored Reks, and advanced to second on the throw to the plate. Becker scored after Riley Mahan singled through the right side of the infield.UK 2, OU 0.
Bot 4th – Evan White doubled down the LF line, and Reks walked. Mahan singled to CF, scoring White and advancing Reks to second. UK 3, OU 0.
Bot 5th – Tyler Marshall singled through the left side, advanced to second base on a passed ball, and moved to third when Marcus Carson grounded out to 1B. Pompey singled through the left side, scoring Marshall. UK 4, OU 0.
Bot 6th – Becker, the leadoff batter, singled through the right side, and then Mahan singled down the 3B line on a bunt. Troy Squires walked to load the bases. Marshall and Connor Heady walked, which plated Becker and Mahan.UK 6, OU 0.
Top 8th – Spencer Ibarra and Ty Black singled. Rudy Rott homered to right field. UK 6, OU 3.
Top 9th – Devon Garcia walked, advanced to second base on the groundout from Tyler Finkler, and moved to third on a wild pitch. Black singled up the middle, scoring Garcia. UK 6, OU 4.
- Kentucky now has 40 wins on the season, the sixth time in school history the Cats have reached 40 wins and first since the 2012 team won 45.
- The Cats are now 15-16 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
- Kentucky struck out four Bobcats on the day, extending its single-season record to 532 total strikeouts.
- UK is now 27-5 at Cliff Hagan Stadium, marking just the fifth time in UK history the Cats have won at least 25 games at home.
o The 27 wins are the fourth most in a season at Cliff Hagan Stadium, five shy of the record 31 the 2006 team posted.
o The Cats are 17-0 at home vs. non-SEC foes.
- Sophomore RHP Sean Hjelle went seven-plus innings, allowing eight hits and three runs, walking three and striking out three.
o Hjelle has allowed three runs or less in eight of last nine starts.
o Hjelle now has 10 wins on the season, moving him into a tie for fourth on UK’s single-season wins list (Matthew Coleman, 1987, and Greg Dombrowski, 2006).
- Senior LHP Logan Salow earned his 11th save of the season.
o Salow ranks second on the UK single-season list, one behind Trevor Gott’s 12 in 2013.
o Salow now has 15 career saves, tying him with Lorhn Frazier (1990-93) for second on UK’s career list.
- Sophomore OF Tristan Pompey went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a walk.
o He extended his reached base safely streak to 31 straight games.
o Pompey now has hit safely in 44 of his past 49 games.
- Junior 1B Evan White went 2-for-5 with a double and a run.
o White now has 224 career hits, moving him into 8th on UK’s all-time list.
o Has 24 doubles this season, tying him for 2nd on the UK single-season list.
o White has a hit in 31 of his last 37 games.
o Has reached base safely streak to 24 of last 27 games.
o White ended a two-game hitless streak, only the second of his career. He has never gone three straight games without a hit.
o White now has 26 multi-hit games this season and 70 for his career.
- Senior OF Zach Reks went 1-for-3 for a run and two walks.
o Reks has reached base safely in 29 of the last 30 games.
o Has a hit in 14 of the past 16 games.
- Junior IF Luke Becker went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI.
o Becker now has 14 multi-hit games this season and 27 for his career.
- Junior IF Riley Mahan went 3-for-5 with a run and two RBI.
o Mahan now has 15 multi-RBI games this season and 22 in his career.
o He has 24 multi-hit games this season and 41 for his career.
- Senior SS Connor Heady went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a walk.
o Heady has a hit in nine of the past 11 games.
o Heady has reached base safely in 11 straight games.
Kentucky advance in the winner’s portion of the bracket and will face the winner of Indiana and N.C. State at 7 p.m.on Saturday night inside Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game can be heard on 630 AM and UKathletics.com and is currently scheduled to be aired on ESPN3.