Powered by career days at the plate from a pair of Cats, the No. 10 Kentucky baseball team knocked off No. 8 LSU 12-5 on Friday in the first game of a doubleheader at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Luke Becker, who didn’t even start, had his first career multi-homer game while Riley Mahan had a career-high five hits.
Becker led off the fifth inning with a pinch-hit solo home run to give UK a 6-2 lead. He stayed in the game as the designated hitter and two innings later blew things open with a two-out grand slam to straightaway center field for an 11-3 advantage.
“I was ready, I don’t mind pinch hitting,” said Becker.
Kentucky Coach Nick Mingione said Kole Cottom, whom Becker replaced in the lineup, deserved some credit for both bombs.
“Kole just went up to (Becker) and gave him a hug and said ‘hit a home run,’ said Mingione. “Then the next time Kole said ‘coach, I told him to hit a home run again.’
“What a neat deal. I thought that sealed the game.”
Not to be outdone by Becker, Mahan staged a hitter’s clinic. The junior second baseman went 5-for-5 with two doubles and three RBI. He singled home Zach Reks to give Kentucky a 2-0 lead in the first inning then put the Cats ahead 3-2 with an RBI-double off the right-field wall in the third. His two-out single in the sixth brought home Reks and gave UK a 7-2 lead.
Kentucky’s 12 runs and 16 hits were both season highs by an opponent against the Tigers.
The Cats chased LSU starter Jared Poche’, who entered Friday with a 2.67 ERA, after just three innings.
“Our game plan going in was to get Poche’ out of the game and get to the bullpen,” said Mahan. “We executed and had guys grind out at-bats to get his pitch count up and put really good swings on balls.”
Mahan had no idea that he’d eclipsed his single-game hit mark with the sixth-inning single. But after his fifth hit, he said, “I thought maybe that could be it, but I still didn’t really think about it too much.”
Starting pitcher Sean Hjelle (6-2) got the win for UK. The 6-foot-11 sophomore went six innings and allowed five hits and three runs while striking out three and walking five.
The Tigers tied it at 2-2 in the second as Greg Deichmann, Nick Coomes and Josh Smith all doubled before Hjelle retired the final two batters, stranding a pair of runners. Hjelle worked out of trouble on multiple occasions, inducing double plays in the fourth and fifth innings that ended LSU threats.
UK was hesitant to test Deichmann after his first at-bat. The junior right fielder entered Friday leading the Tigers with 12 home runs (second-most in the Southeastern Conference) and 45 RBI. Hjelle walked Deichmann intentionally in the third and fifth innings. Reliever Zack Thompson stayed well out of the strike zone as he walked Deichmann in the seventh.
Avoiding the slugger paid off for the Cats as LSU’s Jordan Romero went 0-for-5 and left five runners on base batting behind Deichmann in the five-hole.
Sitting on a 12-4 lead in the top of the ninth, Kentucky opted to attack Deichmann and he responded by smashing a leadoff homer to right-center field for the Tigers’ final run.
Tigers take game two
LSU used a three-run fifth inning to tie the game then scored the winning run on a single by Antoine Duplantis in the eighth to knock off UK 4-3 in Friday’s second game, evening the three-game series.
Kentucky (27-13, 11-6 SEC) took a 2-0 lead in the second inning as Kole Cottam led off with a home run and Evan White walked with the bases loaded. Zach Reks’ RBI-double in the bottom of the fourth gave the Cats a 3-0 cushion.
Cole Freeman was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded then Nick Coomes connected on a two-run single for LSU (27-13, 10-7 SEC) to tie it up 3-3 in the fifth.
The UK offense missed multiple opportunities to break the game open, leaving the bases loaded in the second, third and fourth innings.
“We left 14 guys on base ... the positive is we’re good enough to get the guys on base but we just didn’t cash in,” said Mingione.
The series rubber match is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The Cats will be looking to win their third straight series over the Tigers and fifth Southeastern Conference series of the year.