Defense Delivers for Cats in Sunday's Win Over Indiana State

Defense Delivers for Cats in Sunday's Win Over Indiana State

by Tim Letcher

While Mason Moore was dealing on the mound for the Kentucky baseball team on Sunday, he got plenty of help from his defense in UK’s 5-0 win over Indiana State.

Moore knew that his job was to throw strikes and let his defenders behind him make plays.

“When you have a defense like we have, I wasn’t afraid to make the pitch down the middle or where I needed to,” Moore said. “I think that’s what helped me out the most tonight was just trusting my defense, trusting the guys behind me and knowing they’ll make plays.”

Boy, did they ever. The UK defense was spectacular on Sunday, making a number of highlight-level plays behind Moore and relievers Jackson Nove and Cam O’Brien.

It started in the bottom of the first inning. With one out and a runner on first, Indiana State’s Luis Hernandez hit a hard grounder up the middle that appeared to be destined for center field. However, UK shortstop Grant Smith dove, corralled the ball, flipped it to second baseman Emilien Pitre for one out and Pitre went to first to complete the spectacular double play.

For the Cats, it was something they had done very similarly early in the season.

“I had a flashback because first game of the season, (Smith) and me made the same exact play,” Pitre said. “So, I thought about (that play). But I had a flashback there. It was awesome.”

While that play was incredible, it would not be the play of the night. That came in the bottom of the fifth inning when Indiana State had runners on the corners with one out and appeared to be threatening. ISU’s Parker Stinson hit a fly ball to short left field. UK left fielder Ryan Waldschmidt came in on the ball but didn’t appear to be on a path to catch it. That’s when Smith, heading out into left field, made a diving, tumbling catch that almost no one saw coming. Not only that, but Smith was able to keep Indiana State’s Riley Iffrig from scoring from third.

Smith, one of the best defensive shortstops in college baseball, admitted that it was one of the best plays he has ever made.

“That was pretty good. I don’t know where I would rank it, definitely top two or three probably,” Smith said. “Just a crazy play. I honestly don’t even remember. I kind of blacked out. I thought me and (Waldschmidt) were going to collide, so I’m grateful that didn’t happen, and just the feel he had to see me go after the ball. But yeah, good play.”

The solid defense continued one inning later when UK third baseman Mitchell Daly made a slick play on a hard hit ball by Indiana State’s Mike Sears and threw the Sycamores’ top power hitter out at first.

UK head coach Nick Mingione was impressed with his team, especially defensively, on Sunday.

“I say all the time that we’re just a bunch of dogs. That’s what they are,” Mingione said. “They are a bunch of dogs. And they wanted to win. Pitching, defense, the only way you’re going to do that is you have to make plays because they put balls in play and they’re going to hit balls hard. They’re going to make plays.”

The Kentucky defense powered the Cats past Indiana State and into the Super Regionals on Sunday, shutting out the Sycamores for the first time in 139 games.

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