Kentucky Run-Rules Xavier 13-2 in Return to Lexington

On3 imageby:Daniel Hager04/18/23

DanielHagerKSR

It was a nice homecoming for the Bat ‘Cats on Tuesday as they run-ruled the sneakily hot Xavier Musketeers 13-2. It was Kentucky’s first game played at Kentucky Proud Park in two weeks. Xavier entered Tuesday night’s game having won 12 of their last 14 games. With the win, the ‘Cats are now 9-0 in midweek action this season.

The Wildcats’ offense was hot in this one, combining for 13 total hits. Hunter Gilliam led the way with a monster bounce-back performance, smashing two home runs for six RBI. All rise for “The Captain.”

Travis Smith made his eighth start of the season for Kentucky in this one and his first since April 4th. The rust did not show, however, as Smith sat down the first nine Xavier batters of the game. Smith lasted four innings, allowing just two hits and one earned run in his return to action.

The Wildcats pitching staff enjoyed a stellar performance, allowing just three hits and boasting five 1-2-3 innings.

“I thought our pitchers were A-plus,” head coach Nick Mingione said postgame. “That’s a good offensive team and we held them to three hits. That’s hard to do.”

“The Captain” Gives Kentucky Early Lead

After Smith shut down the Muskies for a quick top half of the first, the ‘Cats wasted no time building a lead.

After Jackson Gray led off the inning with a single up the middle and Devin Burkes was plunked, a quick two runners were put on base for Hunter Gilliam. Gilliam, who was just 3-11 in the series against No. 1 LSU, launched a 452-foot bomb to give the Wildcats a quick 4-0 lead.

Smith continued to mow down the Muskies through innings two and three, bringing Kentucky back up to bat in the bottom of the third. After a quick two outs from Émilien Pitre and Hunter Gilliam, Jase Felker was plunked to kick off the two-out rally. Nick Mingione called for the hit and run and the ‘Cats pulled it off perfectly. As Felker darted for second, Nolan McCarthy ripped a double down the third base line. Felker scored easily, extending the lead to five.

Chase Stanke, who enjoyed a season-best three-hit, four-RBI performance in last Friday’s win over the top-ranked Tigers, singled up the middle to drive in McCarthy. With Travis Smith shoving and the offense rolling, it seemed like this one may get out of hand quickly.

However, the Muskies responded fairly quickly.

Xavier Shrinks Gap, but Not for Long

After Travis Smith sat down the first nine Xavier batters of the game, the Muskies finally figured him out in the fourth. After Preseason Big East Player of the Year Jack Housinger reached first on a Hunter Gilliam Bill Buckner-esque grounder through the legs, Andrew Walker doubled to left field to put runners on first and third. Connor Misch then grounded out to second but allowed a run to score for Xavier. Xavier’s next batter, Matt McCormick, then roped a double to right center, driving in another run for the Muskies.

With that, Travis Smith’s day was over.

As they have done all season, the ‘Cats responded immediately. After Grant Smith flied out to left field to kick off the inning, Jackson Gray received a major break on an infield single. Xavier’s McCormick fielded the slow roller nicely but found nobody on first when he turned around. He tossed an errant throw that made it all the way to the backstop, allowing Gray to take second. Devin Burkes made the Muskies pay, as he blooped a single to center field to drive in another Wildcat run.

Wildcats End this One in Seven

The ‘Cats continued to add to their lead in the bottom of the sixth inning.

After Jackson Nove shut down the Muskies in order in the top of the inning, Grant Smith kicked off the bottom of the inning with a single up the middle. After Devin Burkes was plunked (for the second time), Émilien Pitre smacked a single into center field. It would have loaded the bases if Xavier’s Carter Hendrickson had just fielded it cleanly, but he allowed the ball to roll right through his legs, allowing Smith and Burkes to cross home.

Petey would score on a Hunter Gilliam sac-fly and Kentucky led 10-2 through six.

The Wildcats mustered a run in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a Grant Smith RBI single but stranded a runner on third, failing to end this one in seven. But Hunter Gilliam decided this one wouldn’t go to nine innings. After Pitre led the inning off with a walk, Gilly smoked his second home run of the game to end this one in eight.

“The whole weekend just felt off so being able to get back in the facility and spend a lot of time in the cages was a good feeling,” Gilliam said after his two home run performance. “I kind of knew tonight was going to go the way it was. Before the game I felt way better. Everything felt good. Trying to keep that going.”

With the win, Kentucky improves to 29-7 on the season. The ‘Cats will be back in action on Friday when they welcome the Texas A&M Aggies to Kentucky Proud Park for a three-game weekend series. It will be Bark at the Park all weekend long, so bring all of your furry friends out to KPP for what may be a wet and rainy weekend.

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2024-04-22