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Kentucky Proud Park - Lexington, KY

Wildcats score in double figures twice in DH win

93 days ago
Kentucky Athletics
Photo: Kentucky Athletics

The Kentucky baseball team was shut on in consecutive games against UNC Wilmington last weekend, falling 8-0 on Friday and 3-0 on Saturday.

Those two shutouts seem to have awakened the UK offense. Since then, the Wildcats have scored 60 runs in six games, including 35 runs in a three-game sweep over the weekend. That number includes 11-6 and 13-2 wins over Oakland in a doubleheader on Sunday at Kentucky Proud Park.

Leading the way for the Cats has been red-hot freshman John Rhodes, who had a monster week. In five games, Rhodes went 10 for 20 (.500) with four doubles and a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth against Murray State on Wednesday night. The Soddy Daisy, Tennessee native drove in eight runs during the week and scored six.

Rhodes is taking a very basic approach to his plate appearances.

"I'm just trying to go up there and hit the ball hard, just simplify it," Rhodes said. "Just going up there, trying to get a quality at bat, whether that's a hit or a walk or a hard-hit ball, I'm just trying to hit it hard."

UK head coach Nick Mingione loves Rhodes' work ethic.

"He's a worker, he is just an absolute grinder," Mingione said. "Now that Elliott (Curtis) and Cam (Hill) are out, John Rhodes has to be the guy who hits more baseballs than anybody. He's obsessed with being great. He's been put on this earth to play baseball. That guy is talented."

Senior T.J. Collett also knows how hard Rhodes has been working on his craft.

"He's exactly what everybody's been talking about," Collett said. "He's a grinder. He works harder than anyone else on our team. I bet he's taken three times as many swings as anyone in the lineup. But he knows that's what works for him. And with great preparation comes great confidence and you can see it on the field. He just knows he's going to do well."

Mingione also knows that talent plays a huge role in Rhodes' early success.

"He's just really talented and when you think about offense and the six components, he can do a lot of them," Mingione said. "He has a lot of ways he can beat our opponents offensively.

More importantly, Rhodes and his teammates bounced back from last weekend's series loss to by winning five consecutive games during this week. The freshman knew how important that was to the team.

"From a mental standpoint, it's huge," Rhodes said. "Just knowing that we can produce, get run production, because last weekend was tough."

This weekend was especially important for the Cats as they prepare for SEC play, which begins on Friday. Kentucky will visit second-ranked Vanderbilt for a three-game series in Nashville to open its 2020 SEC campaign. Rhodes thinks the team is in a better spot after this week's success.

"Now, I think we're kind of finally finding out footing and just understanding that we belong," Rhodes said. "Our team morale is really good right now and I think we're on the right track."

Rhodes and the offense picked an ideal time to get hot. Mingione and the Cats hope that momentum can carry into SEC play beginning on Friday.