Scout/Jeff Drummond

Kentucky's Justin Lewis flirts with perfection as Wildcats cap sweep of UCSB

Sophomore right-hander takes perfect game into eighth inning of Cats' 12-1 victory over No. 23 Gauchos.

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It was only fitting that Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione referenced one of the most dominant pitching performances in baseball history prior to Sunday's series finale against UC Santa Barbara.

"We told our team before the game about Orel Hershiser. They asked him 'How did you throw 59 consecutive scoreless innings?'" Mingione said of the Los Angeles Dodger ace's record-setting feat during the 1988 season. "He said, 'I did not worry about the results; I just focused on execution.' And I felt that's exactly what Justin did today."

The Wildcats' Justin Lewis appeared to take inspiration from the pregame talk and carried a perfect game into the eighth inning before allowing a solo home run to the Gauchos' Austin Bush. It was the lone blemish in an outing which also saw the sophomore right-hander strike out eight over eight innings in a 12-1 victory at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

"Boy, he was real special today," Mingione said. "He threw all three pitches for a strike and moved the ball. And I thought our defense played really good behind him as well."

"I just felt good. A beautiful day, so just go out and throw strikes, let the defense work behind me, and limit the walks," said Lewis, a wiry 6-foot-7 Georgia native who has allowed only one run on three hits over his last 15 innings on the mound.

Lewis (1-1) fell just short of the first no-hitter by a UK pitcher since John Bowling in 1974. There have only been three in the school record book and no perfect games. 

His catcher, Troy Squires, said he knew Lewis had great stuff from the beginning of the game. "You could just tell he had a lot of confidence."

Squires admitted that he started shaking with nervous anticipation of what Lewis was doing around the seventh inning. "It was like, 'Oh gosh, he's got it.'"

Even his one "mistake" pitch technically was not.

"It wasn't a bad pitch," Lewis said with a smile. "Change-up is my best pitch, and (Bush) hit my best pitch. I tip my cap to him. It hurt, but I'd rather him hit it way over the fence than a little dinker."

The performance capped one of the most impressive weeks of pitching by the UK staff in recent memory. The Cats (7-5) swept all five games they played this week, allowing only six runs.

Kentucky's weekend starters -- Lewis, Sean Hjelle and Zach Logue -- tossed 22.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on 11 hits, striking out 19 and walking just three against the No. 23 Gauchos, who appeared in the 2016 College World Series.

"When you do that, it takes a tremendous amount of pressure off your offense because you feel like, 'Man, they're going to hold them. Maybe if we just get a couple of guys on, score a run or two...'  Mingione said. "It's a really good feeling."

The Cats had more than enough run support in the series finale after claiming 2-1 and 3-2 wins in the first two games. The offense provided a 5-0 lead in the second inning and extended it to 8-0 by the fourth.

Sophomore outfielder Tristan Pompey led UK's 13-hit attack with a 3-for-4, 2-RBI day. Kole Cottam, Riley Mahan and Connor Heady each followed with two hits. Junior All-American first baseman Evan White bashed his third home run of the season.

Kentucky, which has won seven of eight since an 0-4 start, returns to action Tuesday at home against Wright State. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m. ET.

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