Freshman left-hander Zack Thompson has been named the University of Kentucky’s starting pitcher for Game 1 of the Wildcats’ super regional against Louisville on Friday.
Thompson — a true freshman from Selma, Ind. — was the team’s regular weekday starter during the regular season and got the nod for UK’s third game in regional play Sunday against Indiana.
In that game, Thompson gave up a home run on his first pitch of the day, then didn’t allow another run until the seventh inning, when the Cats were already leading 10-1. Thompson (8-2, 3.52 ERA) struck out seven batters in seven innings against the Hoosiers, and UK won 14-9 before moving on to clinch the Lexington regional the next day.
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“There’s a lot of freshmen that would get rattled and this guy … did not do that,” UK Coach Nick Mingione said after that game. “This is one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached, one of the most gritty players I’ve ever coached.”
Thompson started both of UK’s regular season games against Louisville — one win and one loss — and he went five innings, giving up three hits, four runs and striking out seven Cardinals for the win against U of L on April 18.
Going into Sunday’s game, Thompson was arguably the hottest pitcher on UK’s roster, giving up just six hits and two runs in his previous 23 1/3 innings of work. He’s won six consecutive decisions since taking the loss against the Cards on April 4.
“He’s a special player,” Mingione said Thursday. “He’s grown. When you really think about in all areas of his game, his fastball command has gotten better. His breaking ball has gotten better. His changeup has gotten better. His ability to hold on runners. And when you start going through the checklist of things, as far as on the field goes, he’s really gotten better in every single area. That’s fun to watch.”
Junior right-hander Kade McClure (7-3, 3.63 ERA) will get the Game 1 start for Louisville. McClure gave up six runs and five hits over 5 2/3 innings in the Cardinals’ 11-6 victory over Radford to kick off their regional last Friday.
The Thompson-McClure matchup in Game 1 leaves open the possibility that UK ace Sean Hjelle (11-3, 3.75 ERA) — the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year — could square off with Louisville’s Brendan McKay (9-3, 2.31 ERA), the Baseball America national player of the year, in Saturday’s game.
UK also has regular weekend starters Justin Lewis (6-4, 3.60 ERA) and Zach Logue (7-5, 4.90 ERA) available to start, while freshman left-hander Nick Bennett (5-0, 2.70 ERA) is the other regular weekend starter for Louisville.
Game 3 will be played Sunday, if necessary.