After blitzing in-state rivals, Western and Eastern Kentucky, by a combined score of 29-2, the University of Kentucky baseball found itself in one of the purest of showdowns in the national pastime: a pitcher's duel.
UK's Sean Hjelle and Noah Davis of the visiting No. 23 UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos each a dandy Friday evening. The two combined to retire the first 15 batters they faced.
The Cat's Luke Becker broke through in the bottom of the 3rd inning when he smacked a single on a 1-1 count. Becker advanced to third thanks to a sacrifice fly and an infield single. Marcus Carson brought him with a single to right field, and with that UK went up 1-0. Connor Heady scored later in the inning on a wild pitch to put UK up 2-0.
The Gaucho's answered in the top of the 4th. Colton Burns led off with a single. He got all the way to third base thanks to a fielder's choice and a Hjelle throwing error. Burns scored on a passed ball a play later. Another single and a walk put the go-ahead run on first, but Hjelle calmly worked his way of the jam.
Kentucky threatened again in the bottom of the 7th. Riley Mahan and Luke Becker each singled. Troy Squires grounded on to Davis, and both runners on base advanced to second and third. With runners in scoring position, Heady and Carson easily feel to Davis as he quickly got back in rhythm.
UC-Santa Barbara got two men on in the top of the 8th, but Colton Cleary came out of the UK bullpen and shut down any thought of a Gaucho comeback.
The 2-1 victory improves UK's record to 5-5 and gives Hjelle his first win of the season. Hjelle threw 7.1 innings; he allowed a run, a walk, six hits, and struck out eight. Cleary got his first save of the year in 1.2 innings of work. He fanned three batters and did not allow a run or a hit.
Luke Becker finished 2-of-3 and was the only Wildcat who recorded a multi-hit game. Evan White went 0-3 and was held hitless for the first time this season, dropping his average to a paltry .588.
Nick Mingione recorded a milestone as well. This was the first win over a ranked foe during his short tenure as skipper.
The Bat Cats and Gauchos will play two more this weekend on Saturday and Sunday.