UK Baseball

With Kentucky fighting for its postseason life, its ace tossed another gem

With the University of Kentucky baseball team fighting for its postseason life, the junior ace who has been the Wildcats’ most reliable pitcher this season came up big once again on Sunday.

Zack Thompson tossed six strong innings, leading Kentucky to a 6-2 victory over South Carolina to salvage the last of a three-game series in Columbia, S.C.

Thompson improved to 6-1 on the season, allowing just three hits and two runs while striking out eight batters. He moved into third place on UK’s single-season strikeout list at 121 and is tied for fourth place on the school’s career list at 259. Thompson exited after the sixth inning and sophomore right-handers Daniel Harper and Carson Coleman combined to close out the win with three hitless frames.

The Cats handed Thompson a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a pair of doubles by Elliott Curtis and Coltyn Kessler and went ahead for good in the top of the fourth, 3-1, on an RBI groundout by Marshall Gei and a squeeze bunt by Cam Hill. Kessler added another RBI in the top of the sixth. Ryan Shinn and T.J. Collett drove home UK’s other runs.

Kessler reached base four times Sunday. Shinn now has a team-best 17 multi-hit games this season.

Had the Gamecocks pulled off the sweep, Kentucky would have faced long odds to qualify for the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Only the top-12 finishers in the 14-team league make the tournament, and after Sunday’s win the Wildcats are locked in a dead heat with South Carolina and Alabama for the final spot. All three teams are now 7-20 in SEC play with one three-game series left on their respective schedules. All three of those series are against opponents ranked in the top 10 of the latest coaches’ poll.

Kentucky is the only team among the three contenders that will close out the regular season at home. After hosting non-conference foe Michigan on Tuesday, the Cats host No. 2 Vanderbilt on Thursday (6:30 p.m.), Friday (6:30 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.). Thompson will likely draw the start in Saturday’s finale, meaning if the Cats were to pull out one of the first two games they’d have a shot at pulling off a series upset over the first-place Commodores.

South Carolina travels to No. 6 Mississippi State for its final series of the year, while Alabama will close out the year at No. 7 Georgia. Should there be a tie in the standings for the final spot in the SEC Tournament after the conclusion of the regular season, the last spot will be determined by tiebreaker procedures.

Next game

Michigan at Kentucky

7 p.m. Tuesday (SEC Network)