The University of Kentucky baseball team has been riding a wave of timely hitting and impressive pitching during a torrid run that’s sent it to the top of the Southeastern Conference standings, and the Cats kept rolling on Saturday.
Zach Logue pitched a career-high eight innings and tied his career best with seven strikeouts as No. 16 Kentucky knocked off No. 22 Vanderbilt 7-4 at Cliff Hagan Stadium, clinching a series victory against the Commodores for the first time since 2009 and its third straight SEC series, all against ranked opponents.
The Cats have won five games in a row and 21 of their last 24. At 7-1 in SEC play, they matched their best start to the conference season since 1992.
A day after Sean Hjelle pitched UK to a series-opening 10-3 victory, Logue took his turn in the spotlight.
A midweek starter last season, the junior left-hander was promoted to the weekend rotation after all three weekend starters moved on from the program. Logue said the returning pitchers knew they were perceived as the biggest question marks on the team heading into Coach Nick Mingione’s first season, and they used that skepticism as motivation.
“We honestly had a little chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We’ve taken that as a little bit of momentum and ran with it.”
Logue (4-1) set the tone on Saturday when he struck out two of the three batters he faced in the first inning. He scattered six hits and walked one to lower his ERA to 2.22.
His lone blemish came in the top of the eighth with UK leading 7-0 when Vanderbilt’s Jeren Kendall, a preseason first-team All-SEC selection, belted a leadoff home run to center field. After Ro Coleman reached base on a throwing error, Logue retired the next three batters.
Kendall blasted a three-run homer off UK reliever Colton Cleary in the ninth before Cleary induced a game-ending pop out.
“We talked to (Logue) in the seventh and asked him about the eighth, and he really wanted to go back out there,” Mingione said. “I just loved the way he competed, the way he carried himself … He did basically what he’s done every start out, given us a chance to win.”
Logue said the Cats’ offense has taken a lot of pressure off the pitching staff. For the second day in a row, UK produced a five-run inning.
“When you get that many runs early, it really helps my confidence, and I think it helps the team’s confidence as well,” he said. “We can go out there and play loose and attack the game.”
In the bottom of the third, Marcus Carson scored on Zach Reks’ groundout to get the Cats on the board. UK scored four more runs in the inning, culminating in a two-RBI single by Kole Cottam.
Some might view Cottam’s performance on Saturday as a microcosm of UK’s good fortunes thus far. In addition to his two-run single, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound catcher turned a sacrifice bunt attempt into a single and also managed to reach first safely after striking out, beating the catcher’s throw after a passed ball.
“The last time I bunted for a hit was probably early in high school, and I don’t think I’ve ever got to base on a strikeout,” Cottam laughed. “But hey, whatever it takes. We feel like we’re firing on all cylinders right now. We’re having a ton of fun and we’re still taking it one pitch at a time, but our goal from the start has been Omaha.”
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
1 p.m. (SEC Plus, WLAP-AM 630)