It was a winning home debut for new UK baseball coach Nick Mingione, whose Wildcats bounced back from a tough-luck road trip and busted up Eastern Kentucky for a 12-0 victory Tuesday.
Kentucky went 2-5 to start the season, but the Cats lost those five games by a total of just six runs. The trip started with a three-game series sweep at nationally ranked North Carolina two weekends ago, continued with a 5-4 loss at Liberty and — with two blowout victories in between — concluded with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Delaware in a game that UK led 3-0 going into the bottom of the eighth inning.
There was no nail-biting Tuesday.
“I feel like we’ve been gone for four weeks,” Mingione said. “It’s been a crazy road stretch, but happy to be home. I was really happy with the way our guys responded from a tough loss. And I’m just excited for our pitching staff, in general. We challenge our guys to throw the ball down, and that’s exactly what we did today.”
Junior right-hander Brad Schaenzer — making his second career start and his first in nearly two years — threw five scoreless innings, surrendering just four hits and striking out five EKU batters for the win. Schaenzer retired the first 16 batters he faced this season and is now up to 9 2/3 innings of scoreless ball.
Mark Doerries, Chris Machamer, Austin Keen and Alec Maley each pitched an inning in relief to finish out the Cats’ first shutout of the year.
The only run UK ultimately needed came on Evan White’s opposite-field, solo homer to right in the first inning. A preseason All-American and the Cats’ regular first baseman, White missed five games on UK’s road trip after aggravating a hip injury in the season opener at UNC.
He returned to the lineup as the designated hitter in the Delaware game and was back in that spot again Tuesday, going 3-for-4 with two RBI against the Colonels.
“It felt good,” White said of the homer. “There were two strikes on me, so I was just trying to stay on it. And it just went out. I wasn’t trying to hit it out or anything. I just stayed with the pitch and hit through it, and it took care of itself.”
White is now 7-for-10 for the season and has a 19-game hitting streak dating to last season, when he hit .376 with 40 RBI.
“It’s been tough not having him in there,” Mingione said. “It’s provided some other guys some opportunities, and they’ve really shined. But there’s no doubt that for us to be great, he needs to be in our lineup. Our team’s just different when he’s in there — the sense of confidence, and the way our guys approach things.”
UK will send freshman Zack Thompson to the mound Wednesday against Western Kentucky. The lefty from Selma, Ind., was selected in the 11th round of last year’s MLB Draft but chose to play for the Wildcats instead.
“He’s extremely confident, and that goes a long way,” Mingione said. “His preparation has been phenomenal. He can throw three pitches for a strike. He has an above-average fastball. … We’re looking for big things from him.”
Western Kentucky at Kentucky
4 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network Plus; WOMG-FM 98.5)