Thomas Bernal picked the perfect time to hit his first career home run for Kentucky.
The junior designated hitter ripped a three-run homer that sparked the No. 19 Cats to an 8-3 victory over No. 8 Louisville in front of 3,742 fans Tuesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Bernal had a big night at the plate. He went 3-for-4, drove in four runs and scored twice. His long ball pleased him the most, especially since it came against the Cardinals.
"Any home run feels great, but hitting it against Louisville feels really good," he said, noting that the fourth-largest crowd in UK baseball history helped juice the Cats.
"Every time Louisville comes in, we have a big crowd, the blood starts flowing and you want to take it to 'em. It's good to get that 'W'."
Dylan Dwyer started on the mound and got the victory, although it didn't come easy. The sophomore left-hander gave up a two-run homer to Kyle Gibson in the second, stranded a runner at third in the third, and had to be rescued by his defense in the fifth.
Dwyer retired the first two batters in the sixth before giving way to the first of three relievers.
"I definitely didn't have my good stuff, but I battled," Dwyer said. "I still went 52⁄3, but I couldn't have done it without my defense."
Dwyer gave up two runs, seven hits, struck out three and walked two in improving his record to 2-1.
UK Coach Gary Henderson said Dwyer was too tentative early, "but I was very impressed that he kept fighting. In the fourth inning . . . he finally relaxed, got the tension out of his body, found some rhythm and started cutting loose."
UK's defense saved a run or two in the fifth. After Louisville's Sutton Whiting led off with a single, catcher Micheal Thomas threw him out attempting to steal.
Grant Kay singled with two outs, and Jeff Gardner doubled down the right-field line. Kay tried to score from first, but second baseman JaVon Shelby took the cut-off throw from Kyle Barrett and nailed Kay at the plate to end the inning.
Dwyer also got a boost from the Cats' bats.
Bernal and Shelby's singles drove in Thomas and Barrett in the second to tie it 2-2.
After Thomas and Barrett got on in the fourth, Storm Wilson's sacrifice moved them up. Bernal brought them home when he tagged his line-drive homer to left.
Bernal said he wasn't sure the ball was going to clear the wall, but that wasn't why he didn't start a celebratory trip around the bases.
"I never hit a home run before, so I don't know how to trot," he said with a laugh.
UK pushed its lead to 7-2 in the sixth, with Bernal contributing a single and a run. Shelby and Austin Cousino picked up the RBI.
Shelby, a freshman out of Tates Creek, hit a solo homer in the eighth, and finished the night with three RBI.
Shelby, who has three homers, was happy to see Bernal circle the bases.
"He's got a strong, compact swing, and it was good to see him get his first one."
Henderson, who wasn't aware Bernal hadn't gone yard before, said "it was a good night for him. He's been swinging it pretty well. He started off (the season) making decent contact but he wasn't getting rewarded."
And the Cats were rewarded with a win over their arch-rivals.
"Any time you win, you're happy," Henderson said. "And when you beat a good team, you're happy about that.
"We had lost a couple in a row and it was time to get back on the right side, so it was a good night for the Wildcats."
UK will travel to Louisville for a rematch on April 15.