It was during the sixth inning Sunday when Justin Lewis realized something special was happening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
UK’s 6-foot-7 right-hander struck out UC Santa Barbara’s JJ Muno and got Tevin Mitchell to ground out — thanks to a great diving stop by Wildcats third baseman Luke Becker and a scoop at first by Evan White — to end the inning.
The Wildcats scored four more runs in the bottom half, extending a lead in what was already a blowout of the No. 23 Gauchos.
It should have been a time for celebration, but no one spoke to Lewis in the UK dugout.
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“It was lonely,” he said after the Cats’ 12-1 victory. “And I was like, ‘Oh, all right.’ … I tried not to think about it.”
Lewis tried to push aside the possibility of a perfect game, but it was surely on everyone else’s mind by that point in the game.
“I started shaking around the seventh,” UK catcher Troy Squires said. “Top of the seventh, I was like, ‘Oh, gosh. He’s got it.’ Had to make sure to work for every pitch from then on. It was fun to watch.”
Lewis didn’t finish off the rare feat, but he had a phenomenal afternoon on the mound in just his third start as a Wildcat.
J-Lew was dialed in from pitch one. You could just tell he had a lot of confidence.
Troy Squires, UK catcher
The third-year sophomore from Suwanee, Ga., pitched eight innings, giving up just one hit while striking out eight and walking none as the Cats completed a three-game sweep of UC Santa Barbara, their first series sweep of a ranked opponent since 2012.
The one hit the Gauchos managed against Lewis came in the top of the eighth, when UCSB first baseman Austin Bush led off the inning by sending an 0-1 pitch over the wall in right-center field.
Lewis was still hitting 93 mph on the speed gun at that point, and the pitch that ended his perfect game was a 78 mph changeup — his best pitch.
“The ball the guy hit out was a really good pitch,” said UK Coach Nick Mingione. “One might look and go, ‘He made one mistake.’ I disagree. I thought it was a really good pitch. It was down, and the guy made a good swing on it and it left the ballpark.”
Lewis, who drew a standing ovation after Bush’s home run, could only smile as he recalled the one blemish on his day.
“He hit my best pitch,” he said. “You have to tip your cap to him. I’m not mad about that at all.”
There have been only three no-hitters in UK history, and none since John Bowling threw one in 1974.
Lewis (1-1), who made 21 appearances out of the bullpen with a 2.08 ERA as a freshman, picked up his first win as a starter and has now given up just one run and three hits in 15 innings over his last two starts.
“J-Lew was dialed in from pitch one,” Squires said. “You could just tell he had a lot of confidence in his fastball and his off-speed stuff, and when a guy is going good like that, you don’t really mess with him. You just let him do his thing.”
Wright State at Kentucky
4 p.m. Tuesday (SEC Network Plus)