UK baseball’s Zack Thompson: ‘They’re not giving us a chance’
It has been a rough first half of the Southeastern Conference season for the University of Kentucky baseball team, but things are looking up after a big showing in Oxford, Miss., on Sunday.
The Wildcats swept a doubleheader at Mississippi, closing out the first half of the SEC schedule by winning their first league series of the year. The Rebels were ranked No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll last week and dropped to No. 17 after the losses to UK.
Now, Kentucky (20-16 overall, 4-11 SEC) will look to even the season series with No. 7 Louisville when the two teams meet at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The Cardinals (28-8) drilled the Wildcats, 8-3, in Louisville on April 2. After that, Kentucky will host Tennessee for a three-game series beginning Thursday.
Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said Monday that he hopes the team can build on this momentum.
“Obviously, they should be confident, they should be feeling good about themselves,” Mingione said. “To get our first (SEC) series win, much less against a top-10 opponent on the road was big for our team.”
Mingione said he’s stressed to his team that they can’t control everything.
“I talked to our team this weekend about controlling the controllables and not worrying about the uncontrollable,” he said. “And we went through a list of the uncontrollables, like the weather, the crowd, the field conditions. You can’t control those. Let’s control the things we can control like our effort, our toughness, our attitude, the thoughts going through our heads, let’s control that. Our biggest focus right now is our team and not our opponent because we can’t control our opponent.”
While it was undoubtedly a relief to finally claim that first SEC series win, the method by which the Wildcats swept the Rebels surely made the victory even sweeter. UK has struggled on the mound for much of the season, but it was stellar pitching that paced the Cats on Sunday — along with another helping of power hitting from home run-leader T.J. Collett.
Rescheduled as a doubleheader because of a dubious weather forecast on Saturday, both of Sunday’s games were shortened to seven innings. Kentucky won the first game, 4-1, behind a strong start from sophomore left-hander Mason Hazelwood. The Mercer County graduate picked up the victory in the first SEC start of his career, striking out three and holding the Rebels scoreless over 5 2/3 innings. Collett hit his eighth home run of the year to give the Cats a 1-0 lead in the top of the second and Dalton Reed smacked a two-run homer for a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning.
Kentucky won the second game, 4-2, as Zack Thompson struck out eight and allowed two runs over six innings. Cole Daniels and Daniel Harper combined to finish off the Rebels in the seventh. Collett’s ninth homer of the year, a three-run shot in the top of the fourth, proved to be all the offense the Cats needed.
Collett’s big weekend helped earn him SEC Player of the Week honors on Monday.
Louisville at Kentucky
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
Live video broadcast: SEC Network Plus (online only)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630