LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky edged Ohio 6-4 to open NCAA Tournament play behind an all-around effort from the lineup, and a serviceable outing from SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle.
All nine batters in Kentucky’s order had a hit. The Wildcats left a whopping 15 runners on base, but they also hit .375 with runners on and were an impressive 7 for 14 with two outs. Kentucky had 13 hits to Ohio’s 8.
Hjelle was given a two-run lead after the first inning and that cushion gradually got bigger as it carried him to the win.
It was the first regional game played in Lexington since 2006. The announced attendance was 3,956 under a cloudless sky at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Big stick + arm
2B Riley Mahan
Mahan went 3 for 5 on the day, and while every Wildcats batter had a hit, no one had more than Mahan. He drove in 2 runs from the No. 5 spot in Kentucky’s lineup.
SP Sean Hjelle
Kentucky coach Nick Mingione opted for his ace in the regional opener, and Hjelle did his job. The SEC Pitcher of the Year pitched 7 shutout innings, but at 101 pitches, he was brought back to the mound in the eighth inning. That proved to be a mistake as Hjelle gave up a three-run homer to Ohio’s Rudy Rott. The blast cut the deficit to 6-3.
Hjelle gave up 8 hits on the day, and while the first seven failed to do any damage, the eighth was significant but not detrimental to Kentucky’s chances.
Hjelle will not be available for the rest of the weekend after throwing 107 pitches on Friday.
Chris Machamer and Logan Salow pitched two innings in relief to close out the game.
What’s next for Kentucky?
Kentucky will play the Indiana-N.C. State winner at 7 p.m. ET Saturday at Cliff Hagan Stadium in the winner’s bracket. Ohio will play the loser of that game at noon ET Saturday.
A win against either Indiana or N.C. State would put Kentucky in line for a regional win at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Lexington Regional bracket