Sean Hjelle dominated from the start, striking out eight batters in seven scoreless innings, and Riley Mahan hit his team-leading sixth home run of the season as the University of Kentucky baseball team beat host Missouri 5-2 on Friday night to open a three-game series.
Hjelle, a 6-foot-11 right-hander, allowed five hits and walked one.
UK (24-11, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) loaded the bases in the top of the third inning with no outs but had to settle for one run. Connor Heady drew a leadoff walk, Tristan Pompey doubled and Evan White walked to load the bases.
Zach Reks then hit into a 4-6-3 double play, scoring Heady from third with the first run of the game. That was all UK would get in the inning as T.J. Collett popped to third for the third out.
The Cats made it 2-0 in the fourth on Mahan’s blast to left center.
White singled in the fifth and scored all the way from first when Reks hit a drive past Missouri first baseman Brian Sharp that was ruled an error. That stretched UK’s lead to 3-0.
When Missouri threatened in the bottom of the fifth — the Tigers had runners on first and second with one out — Hjelle benefited from a terrific play by his shortstop. Heady dived to snare Connor Brumfield’s bullet ground ball and flipped to second for a force out.
Brumfield then stole second. Needing one more out to escape a jam with two runners in scoring position, Hjelle ended the threat by striking out Kameron Misner.
Kentucky scored twice in the sixth, thanks in part to some wildness by Missouri starting pitcher Tanner Houck. Mahan reached second base on an error by left fielder Kirby McGuire, advanced to third on a balk and scored on Luke Becker’s sacrifice fly to center. With two out, Houck hit Marcus Carson and Heady with pitches in back-to-back at-bats. Pompey made Houck pay with a line-drive single to right center to make it 5-0.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth, when Missouri’s Trey Harris and Brett Bond hit solo home runs off Kentucky reliever Colton Cleary. After the next batter, Robbie Glendinning, singled, Kentucky Coach Nick Mingione had seen enough, calling on Logan Salow to close it out. The senior left-hander from Ashland did just that, striking out the next two batters for his team-high seventh save of the season.
Pompey went 3-for-5 for Kentucky from the leadoff spot. He is 14-for-24 (.583) in the last six games.
Game 2 of the series is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.