With long, dark hair spilling down from the back of his cap, Dustin Beggs looks like Jacob deGrom on a pitching mound. More importantly, he pitched like the budding New York Mets star Saturday night.
Beggs threw a three-hit shutout as Kentucky beat No. 2 South Carolina 6-0, and, maybe more importantly, eased any lingering pain from a sloppy loss to the Gamecocks the night before.
“Really proud of Dustin showing up when it really mattered,” UK Coach Gary Henderson said.
After Kentucky pitchers walked seven and hit two batters in Friday’s 10-5 loss, Henderson said that pitching was the way to make amends. As if on cue, Beggs retired 16 straight South Carolina hitters in one stretch and did not give up a hit until two were out in the sixth inning.
“It hurts when you give it away,” Henderson said of Friday’s game. “Not that it’s easy when someone just flat beats you. But when you give it away, there’s a little more pain.”
Beggs pitched UK’s first complete-game shutout of a ranked opponent since May 6, 2011 (Alex Meyer against No. 1 Vanderbilt) and first complete-game shutout against any team this season. He and his teammates had their resolve tested early. South Carolina’s first two batters reached base on an error and a walk.
Beggs, whose record improved to 8-1, needed nine pitches (seven strikes) to retire the next three hitters.
“I think that spoke volumes,” Henderson said, “and really set a tone.”
Beggs, a 6-foot-2 senior right-hander from Roswell, Ga., also saw the first inning as significant.
“I think it definitely set a tone for the team,” he said. “I wasn’t going to back down. I wasn’t going to let an error or a walk or anything like that get to me. I think that motivated the guys, too.”
Kentucky, 28-19 overall and 12-11 in the Southeastern Conference, needed a boost after learning that leading hitter, leadoff man and first baseman Evan White will be sidelined indefinitely. White, whom Henderson also called UK’s best defender, sprained a thumb in Friday’s game and won’t play in Sunday’s wrap-up to the three-game series.
As on Friday, Kentucky took an early 3-0 lead. Unlike on Friday, when shortstop Riley Mahan hit a three-run homer in the first, the Cats struck for three runs in the second inning.
Two of Henderson’s lineup changes delivered run-scoring hits. Right fielder Dorian Hairston singled in a run, then freshman catcher Kole Cottam ripped a two-run double to right center.
A fit of wildness by South Carolina starter Braden Webb enabled Kentucky to score another run in the fourth inning.
Webb, who came into the game leading the nation with nine victories, threw first-pitch strikes to 11 of the first 13 batters he faced. But Luke Becker opened the fourth with a single, then advanced to second, third and home on wild pitches.
Webb struck out 10, which increased his season total to 93, a school record for a freshman.
Meanwhile, Beggs shut down South Carolina. The senior right-hander gave up his first hit with two out in the sixth. Dom Thompson-Williams, who made a diving catch deep down the left field line in the top of the inning, singled sharply up the middle on a 3-2 pitch.
“It didn’t really cross my mind,” Beggs said of the potential no-hitter, “until I gave up that one and I looked up at the board and saw the one go up and kind of thought, oh, maybe next time.”
South Carolina at Kentucky
When: 3 p.m.