Playing in their first game in Lexington's renovated ball park, junior college transfer Sawyer Carroll and redshirt freshman Jason Kipnis combined to produce six UK runs and freshman Duran Ferguson and junior college transfer Aaron Lovett pitched seven and two thirds innings as UK beat Murray State 8-5 in its home opener Wednesday.
"I loved it," Kipnis said. "It's just a great experience to get out here and get our feet wet."
"It was fun to get out in front of the home crowd," Carroll said. "It was my first experience here and the fans were great. It wasn't your ideal baseball weather, but it was fun to finally get this under my belt."
UK is now 4-0 on the year after a season-opening sweep of Furman in South Carolina.
Kipnis went 1-for-3 from the plate and scored twice. He hit a solo home run in the fifth inning, his third homer in just four games this season.
Carroll was 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs. He said that winning in a close game made opening day even more special. "It was actually kind of nice to be in a close game tonight. We had a few not-so-close games this weekend (against Furman) down in South Carolina. It's good to get that under our belts now and hopefully now we can get better."
Head coach John Cohen was not quite as thrilled with the Cats' performance. After scoring two runs in the first inning, UK's bats went stagnant for a few innings. Murray State took a 4-2 lead after catcher Jason Payton belted a grand slam off of junior Tommy Warner.
"We were not as focused as I wanted us to be," head coach John Cohen said. "We worked so hard to talk about focusing in on what's going on but I think our minds were just not in this game."
Cohen said some of his players had good individual performances, but he was not happy with the way his team played.
"We just have to be better," Cohen said. "These games you may win now, but sometimes in league play you won't win these games with similar-type performances."
Ferguson made his first career start against the Racers. Ferguson pitched well, striking out eight batters and giving up just three hits in just in four innings.
But Cohen had to relieve Ferguson because of fatigue.
"He was gassed," Cohen said. "He was really tired, and it's not because he's not in great condition, because all of our pitchers are.When you go out there and throw in front of a good crowd in a game it just wears on you a little quicker."
The Thoroughbreds quickly loaded the bases with two more singles against reliever Warner and then Payton launched the ball over the wall in left-centerfield.
Cohen said the home run was the result of a bad pitch.
"If he locates it down we get a ground ball double play and maybe they don't even score," Cohen said. "That just shows you how one pitch changes the whole nature of the game."
Kipnis hit his third home run in just the fourth game of the season that began a fifth-inning rally. The redshirt freshman continues to swing a hot bat. He batted .556 with two home runs and four RBIs over the weekend, a performance that earned him National Freshman of the Week honors by Rivals.com.
Billy Grace drove in Carroll later in the inning to knot the score 4-4. In the bottom of the seventh, third baseman Matt McKinney singled up the middle, driving in Kipnis for the go-ahead run.
The Cats added three insurance runs in the eighth inning to put the game out of reach.
After the game, McKinney credited the way UK's new players have stepped up this season.
"They've done a great job," McKinney said. "Everyone is doing real well. We have a lot of depth on this team, which is the great thing about it."
Junior College transfer Aaron Lovett took the ball and control of the game in the fifth inning. He shut out Murray State into the ninth inning and struck out five batters along the way.
Freshman Tyler Henry yielded one run but recorded the final two outs to seal the 8-5 UK win.