Scout/Jeff Drummond

Kentucky Wildcats wear down Ohio Bobcats 6-4 in Lexington Regional opener

Cats await winner of Indiana-N.C. State matchup in next game.

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Even on a day when Kentucky's potent lineup does not produce an extraordinary number of runs, it's not easy being the pitcher facing the Wildcats.

Just ask Ohio's Michael Klein, who started against No. 8 Kentucky on Friday in the opening game of the Lexington Regional in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. 

Top-seeded UK advanced in the winners bracket with a 6-4 victory at Cliff Hagan Stadium, but it was a game that often felt like it was teetering on a blowout. The Cats collected 13 hits and drew nine walks, ultimately stranding 15 runners on base.

Smashmouth baseball, so to speak. 

“I was talking about that in the dugout," Klein said. "I was relating it to football and time of possession where we were on defense compared to theirs. They were getting in and out real quick, while we were out there for awhile in the heat.

"... That was the best lineup I’ve faced all year. I guess the next hardest was Ball State, but that was a good lineup, one through nine. I had to focus every at-bat, every pitch." 

Every player in the Kentucky lineup collected at least one hit, led by three from second baseman Riley Mahan and two apiece from first baseman Evan White and designated hitter Luke Becker. Third baseman Tyler Marshall added a hit and exemplified the Cats' grinding approach with three walks.

"I thought our offense was relentless," said UK head coach Nick Mingione, noting that the Cats' two runs in the first inning came with two outs, as did the next two in the fourth and fifth innings.

The final two runs -- which proved to be the margin of victory -- came via bases-loaded walks by Marshall and Connor Heady against the Ohio bullpen in the sixth inning.

"As good a hitting team as Kentucky is, I would have liked to at least make them swing the bat on those last two," Ohio head coach Rob Smith lamented.

The Cats led 6-0 in the eighth before Ohio broke through against UK starter Sean Hjelle, who gave up a three-run homer to Bobcats first baseman Rudy Rott.

Hjelle (10-3) bounced back from a rough outing against LSU in the SEC Tournament to hold Ohio to three runs on eight hits over seven-plus innings of work.

"He makes it really easy, and there’s a reason why he’s the SEC Pitcher of the Year," Mingione said. "He did tonight what he did basically every time out for our team – he gave us a chance to win. Eight out of nine starts, he’s given up three runs or less."

UK closer Logan Salow earned his 11th save of the season, allowing one run on a walk and a hit in the ninth inning. Rott came to the plate as the potential tying run, but Salow got him to ground out to first for the final out. 

Klein (5-3) took the loss for the Bobcats, allowing three runs on eight hits and five walks over his four innings on the mound.

Kentucky (40-20) advances to face the winner of Friday night's N.C. State-Indiana matchup on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.

Ohio (31-27) will face the loser in the elimination bracket game Saturday at noon ET. 

CLICK HERE to view our AW Photo Gallery from today's game.

NOTES:

  • It marked only the second time that the Cats have won an opening game of the NCAA Tournament in program history and the first since 1988.
  • The Cats are 17-0 at home vs. non-SEC foes.
  • Hjelle now has 10 wins on the season, moving him into a tie for fourth on UK’s single-season wins list (Matthew Coleman, 1987, and Greg Dombrowski, 2006).
  • UK's Tristan Pompey has reached base safely in 31 straight games.
  • White 24 doubles this season, tying him for 2nd on the UK single-season list.
  • Mahan now has 15 multi-RBI games this season and 22 in his career.


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