Scout/Jeff Drummond

Sean Hjelle draws starting assignment for Kentucky Wildcats' NCAA opener against Ohio

UK throwing its ace in critical first game of Lexington Regional.

The big question facing Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione heading into this weekend's Lexington Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament was who would take the mound for the top-seeded Wildcats in their opening game against Ohio.

Kentucky has many strong options available with an eye on potential matchups later in the weekend, but Mingione announced Thursday that he'll hand the ball to SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle for the noon ET game on Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium. 

Hjelle (9-3, 3.87) is coming off a rough outing against LSU in the SEC Tournament in which the 6-foot-11 sophomore right-hander allowed 10 runs (nine earned) to the eventual tourney champion. The UK ace said he's "extremely excited" to put that game behind him and get the Cats off to a good start in the regional.

No. 8 Kentucky (39-20) features the top offense in the SEC, led by outfielder Tristan Pompey (.369, 9 HR), first baseman Evan White (.366, 8 HR) and second baseman Riley Mahan (.325, 14 HR). 

Ohio (31-26) will send Michael Klein (5-2) to the mound on Friday. The junior right-hander sports a 3.27 ERA this season.

At the plate, the Bobcats are led by MAC Tournament MVP Spencer Ibarra, who is hitting .330 on the season with a team-high 12 home runs. Connor Callery is second on the team with a .313 batting average, while Rudy Rott is second on the team with 10 homers.

The winner of Friday’s first game will face the winner of the 7 p.m. ET game between second-seeded Indiana and third-seeded N.C. State. Winners of Friday’s games will meet on Saturday at noon ET, while the losers of Friday’s game will meet in an elimination game on Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET. 

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