University of Kentucky baseball coach Nick Mingione anticipated a “heavyweight bout” for his team’s matchup with LSU on Thursday night.
This one was more Tyson-Spinks than Ali-Frazier.
Alex Lange held Kentucky to six hits and struck out seven in seven scoreless innings, and LSU batters landed a flurry of haymakers against UK pitcher Sean Hjelle in a 10-0 Southeastern Conference Tournament victory in Hoover, Ala.
The game between the No. 2 seed (LSU) and the No. 3 seed (Kentucky) was shortened to seven innings because of the mercy rule.
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Kentucky’s next game will be a rematch with second-round opponent South Carolina (34-24) on Friday at 4 p.m. ET. The Cats (39-19) beat the Gamecocks 7-2 on Wednesday. This time, the winner will advance to the semifinals and the loser will go home.
LSU (41-17) moved on to Saturday’s semifinals, where it will await the winner of Kentucky-South Carolina.
Lange, mixing a low-90s fastball with a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t knuckle curve, had UK’s batters looking perplexed most of the night.
When UK did connect, the ball had the annoying habit of landing in LSU center fielder Zach Watson’s glove. The speedy freshman made three sensational catches in the first three innings to deny Tristan Pompey, Marcus Carson and Evan White of hits.
“I feel like we’re crushing balls,” Mingione said during an in-game interview with the SEC Network. “There’s a part of me (that says), ‘I don’t want ’em to do anything different.’ We are hitting laser beams. But we just need to continue grinding out our at-bats.”
LSU batters had no such trouble against Hjelle. The Tigers scored five runs in the bottom of the second inning to take the lead, then poured it on with five more in the fifth.
The crowning blow was a three-run homer to left by Kramer Robertson that made it 10-0. Hjelle retired the next batter to end the inning, but the damage was done. His final line: five innings, 11 hits, 10 runs and, yes, 10 strikeouts and no walks.
Robertson’s home run was the 24th of this tournament, a record for the event.
Mingione credited Hjelle for not throwing in the towel after a second inning that included two infield singles and an error by third baseman Tyler Marshall.
“We didn’t make many plays for him,” Mingione said. “There were two plays we didn’t make that would have helped us get out of the inning. But I love the way he’s competing. ... He has not stopped competing.”