Sixth-ranked Kentucky baseball took a major step toward just its second SEC regular-season championship in history on Thursday night with a 12-4 thumping of fifth-ranked Florida in Gainesville. The Gators entered the series with the best record in the league.
Now the Wildcats (38-16, 19-9 SEC) are tied with both Florida (38-15, 19-9) and LSU (37-17, 19-9) entering the final two games of the regular season for each of them. UK has a pair to go against the Gators and the 10th-ranked Tigers will finish their series at No. 9 Mississippi State.
Whatever happens now, is there any doubt first-year Cats coach Nick Mingione is the SEC Coach of the Year — and probably deserving of the national award?
The big stick + arm
The sophomore slugger managed just one hit in six at-bats, but boy was that one a doozy. Kentucky trailed 3-0 in the fourth inning when Pompey crushed his ninth home run of the season, a grand slam, into the palm trees beyond the right-field wall. That ignited the Cats and provided a lead they’d never relinquish.
Kentucky pounded out a staggering 20 hits against Florida, three apiece from Evan White, Riley Mahan, Marcus Carson and Kole Cottam. The Cats got 13 of those hits (and 7 runs) off Gators ace Alex Faedo, who’d taken just one previous loss this season and is ranked by Baseball America as the 10th-best overall prospect for the 2017 MLB draft.
GRAND SLAM in Gainesville!!!!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 19, 2017
WP Sean Hjelle
The towering sophomore improved his team-best record to 9-2 and lowered his earned-run average to 3.17 by allowing just one earned run in 5 2/3 innings. He was hardly perfect, walking five and allowing six hits, but thanks to the Cats’ bats it was enough to leave the mound with a commanding lead.
What’s next for Kentucky?
The Wildcats and Gators play again Friday at 7 p.m. (SEC Network) and Saturday at 1 p.m. (SEC Network-plus) in Gainesville. Listen on 630 AM-WLAP in Lexington.