Pitching and fielding have been the story in big games for Kentucky baseball this season.
And it hasn’t been a happy tale.
The Cats’ woes were on full display Tuesday night in the Battle of the Bluegrass, a game that started with promise in front of a program-record regular-season crowd of 4,919 for the hosts at glimmering, new Kentucky Proud Park.
But it ended in an 18-6 loss after No. 7 Louisville mowed through 10 UK pitchers.
The Cardinals scored 18 runs on 23 hits and four UK errors after it looked like UK’s potent offense would give the Cats a chance.
Kentucky had things going their way in the second inning. TJ Collett was hit by the first pitch from Louisville starter Luke Smith, signaling trouble ahead for the Cards. Breydon Daniel cashed in a batter later with a drive just over the right field wall and into the Louisville bullpen to make it 3-1 Cats.
Ryan Johnson followed with a double down the left-field line, setting up a Zeke Lewis single to right that put runners on first and third and one out. Smith, who is 4-0 on the season, walked Austin Schultz to load the bases and end his day. Cards head coach Dan McDonnell called in Jack Perkins to take over on the mound.
Perkins got Ryan Shinn, who homered in the first, to strike out. But Coltyn Kessler worked a full-count walk to push in another UK run. A wild pitch allowed Lewis to score to make it 5-1 UK before an unfortunate bounce on another wild pitch came right back to the catcher for a tag on Schultz to end the inning.
Ignoring the deficit, Louisville scored three runs in the fourth and four more in the fifth to break the game wide open and take a 10-5 lead they would keep piling onto.
The Cards got it going in the third on UK’s third pitcher of the night, Grant Macciotti. Alex Binelas singled and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice. Zeke Pinkham followed with a walk.
Maccioti induced a grounder from pinch-hitter Drew Campbell, but the Cats couldn’t turn the double play leaving runners on first and second for Louisville’s leadoff man and leading hitter, Lucas Dunn, who came into the game with a .314 average.
Dunn smoked a two-run double into the gap in right center. Jake Snider scored Dunn a batter later on a single to left to cap the rally and lead Louisville in front, 6-5.
An inning later, it got worse for UK as Trip Lockhart took the mound. Logan Wyatt hit a leadoff single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. A Zach Britton single was erased when he was caught stealing, but Binelas knocked in Wyatt. When Lockhart’s pickoff attempt went wide and rolled deep into foul territory, Binelas advanced to third. UK Coach Nick Mingione then turn to Alex Degen, his fifth pitcher of the night.
Degen was greeted by an RBI single from Justin Lavey. He followed with a strikeout, but the next batter, Drew Campbell, took him deep to right for a two-run homer that put Louisville up 10-5.
Shinn opened the scoring for the Cats in the first, taking a 1-2 pitch out to left-center for his ninth home run of the season, tying Collett for the team lead. UK measured the blast at 412 feet.
Louisville tied the game in the second as Justin Lavey’s blooper down the left-field line dropped for a double before anyone could get to it, scoring Logan Wyatt. Wyatt singled and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice. A wild pitch on ball four allowed Lavey to advance to third and put Zeke Pinkham on first. After a conference at the mound, UK starter Dillon Marsh struck out Ethan Stringer to end the threat.
In the top of the third, Louisville got a double and a triple from Jake Snider and Tyler Fitzgerald to cut the lead to 5-2. A groundout to second plated Fitzgerald to make it 5-3. Marsh’s day ended after a high chopper eluded him, putting another runner on. Reliever Cole Daniels entered for the Cats and a pitch in the turf enticed Louisville’s Danny Oriente to try to steal second. Kessler threw him out to end the inning.
In the teams’ first meeting two weeks ago, Louisville won 8-3 thanks to six unearned runs by the error-prone Cats. UK committed three errors in that one, one each in the third, fourth and sixth innings to fall after taking a 2-0 lead in the third.
Louisville (29-8) came in on a four-game win streak that included a smashing of then-No.2 N.C. State in Raleigh, a series sweep that vaulted the Cardinals to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
Kentucky (20-17) got its first SEC series win of the season last weekend by taking two of three from then-No. 10 Mississippi. The Cats have played arguably the toughest schedule in the country with 20 games against teams in the RPI top 25.
The Cats have especially struggled against that top competition, getting swept at No. 3 Texas Tech, at No. 11 LSU, vs. No. 13 Texas A&M and now losing the home and home with Louisville.
First pitch: Former UK tight end C.J. Conrad, now preparing for a possible pro career, delivered the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday. The big right-hander overclutched the ball a bit and threw it wide of the plate on a bounce, but not so badly the catcher couldn’t reel it in. The NFL Draft begins April 25.
The Cliff 2: The student tailgate party that UK enjoyed at its old home The Cliff has reincarnated at its new home. It’s just a little further afield. Students now gather way past the left-field wall in the parking lot next to the soccer practice field. When it gets quiet, you can hear the music blaring. Perhaps not the student presence UK was hoping for, but at least they’re still coming out near the park.
Tennessee at Kentucky
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Live video broadcast: SEC Network Plus (online only)
Radio: WLAP-AM 630