Scout/Jeff Drummond

Sean Hjelle tosses gem as Kentucky Wildcats edge UC Santa Barbara 2-1 in series opener

Sophomore right-hander impressive as Cats beat 2016 College World Series squad.

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After a bumpy beginning in his transition from Kentucky's closer to opening-game starter in the weekend rotation, Sean Hjelle looked every bit the ace that the Wildcats have envisioned on Friday against UC Santa Barbara. 

The 6-foot-11 sophomore right-hander tossed a gem in UK's 2-1 victory over the No. 23 Gauchos, allowing only one run over 7.1 innings while striking out eight. 

Kentucky (5-5) won for the fifth time in six games after an 0-4 start to the season in which Hjelle carried an 11.57 ERA in his two previous outings.

The Wildcats gave Hjelle (1-1) and closer Colton Cleary just enough run support with two in the second inning against UCSB's tough-luck losing starter Noah Davis (2-1). The Gauchos' sophomore right-hander surrendered only two runs on five hits and did not walk a batter on a sun-splashed but 38-degree day at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

Junior third baseman Luke Becker went 2-for-3 and scored a run to lead UK at the plate. Marcus Carson added an RBI single. The Cats scored the winning run when Connor Heady came around on a wild pitch. 

CLICK HERE to see a photo gallery from today's game on our official All Wildcats Facebook page.

UCSB's only run against the UK staff came on a Hjelle wild pitch in the fourth inning after Colton Burns singled, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and moved to third on a throwing error.

The Gauchos threatened in the eighth inning, but Cleary and catcher Troy Squires teamed on a strikeout-throwout double play with one out and the go-ahead run at first base. Squires nailed the potential tying runner attempting to steal third.

Cleary earned UK's first save of the season by working the final 1.2 innings without giving up a hit or a walk and striking out three. 

It marked the Cats' first one-run victory of the season after losing their previous four close games.

The three-game series resumes on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

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