Bullpen, Defense Lead Cats Past Aggies on Sunday
After dropping both ends of a doubleheader on Saturday, the 11th-ranked Kentucky baseball team needed a win against Texas A&M on Sunday.
The Cats turned to a tried and true formula during the Nick Mingione Era – leaning on pitching and defense – to beat the Aggies 8-1 on Sunday, earning their 30th win of the season.
The UK pitching staff stepped up in a big way on Sunday. It began with starting Zack Lee, who pitched his way into, then out of, a bases-loaded jam in the first inning. Despite not having his best stuff on Sunday, Lee got through 3.1 innings while giving up just one run.
Mingione liked how Lee fought his way through the first frame.
“I thought it started on the mound. I thought Zack Lee, in the first inning, he didn’t give in and they weren’t able to score.”
Mingione then turned to his bullpen, and the relievers, one after another, all delivered.
It started with Evan Byers, who came into the game in the fourth inning with two on and just one out. Byers was able to enduce a ground out, then get a strikeout of Trevor Warner to get out of the jam.
Colby Frieda followed with a scoreless inning in the sixth, followed by two shutout frames from Jackson Nove and a scoreless ninth from Magdiel Cotto.
Mingione loved the work of his relievers on Sunday.
“The job of our bullpen was phenomenal,” the UK head coach said. “Evan Byers got us five key outs. Colby Frieda had a clean inning. Jackson Nove was great and it was good to see Mag (Cotto) get three punchouts in the end.”
The pitchers did not do it on own, however. The UK defense was spectacular all day, especially in the outfield. Mingione knew that was a key.
“I thought we defended at a really high level,” Mingione said. “I thought our outfield all did well. Nolan (McCarthy) ran to the ball well, Jackson Gray, Waldy (Ryan Waldschmidt) made two unbelievable plays.”
The biggest defensive play of the game came in the top of the sixth inning. With UK holding a 4-1 lead, Texas A&M had a runner on first and one out when leadoff batter Hunter Haas laced a Frieda pitch into the gap in left-center field. That’s where Waldschmidt, on a full sprint, reached up and snagged a potential extra-base hit.
The running catch would have been impressive on its own but Waldschmidt saw A&M’s Hank Bard near the second base bag. So the UK left fielder made the throw to shortstop Grant Smith, who relayed on to Hunter Gilliam at first to complete the huge double play. Mingione saw that play as a turning point for the Cats.
“There was so many good things about that play,” Mingione said. “Not only the way he ran to it but then, he had to make the catch. Then, he had to make the throw, then Grant Smith had to make the throw and he dropped it on a dime to Gilly. That was one of the key plays in the game. That changed the whole game.”
From there, the Cats added four more runs to secure the victory by using a familiar formula.
“We pitched it, we defended it,” Mingione said. “And when we do that, it gives our offense a chance to get going. Score a couple here, a couple there, then there’s the big inning and the score ends up where it is.”