LEXINGTON, Ky. - Jackson Gray homered, hit a bases loaded triple and reached base four times to lead No. 11 Kentucky to an 8-1 bounce back victory over Texas A&M on Sunday afternoon at Kentucky Proud Park.
No. 11 Kentucky reached 30 wins overall, are 30-9 overall and 11-7 in Southeastern Conference play. The win salvaged a weekend in which it was one out from winning the series.
The Wildcats scored a pair of single runs in the first and second innings before Gray blew the game open in the seventh with his base-clearing triple into the right field corner. Left-handed pitcher Evan Byers did incredible work on the mound to get out of a sticky situation and outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt made several highlight reel defensive plays in left field to dissolve potential Aggie threats.
After dropping both ends of a doubleheader on Saturday, the 13th-ranked Kentucky baseball team needed a win against Texas A&M on Sunday.
The Cats turned to a tried and true formula during the Nick Mingione Era - leaning on pitching and defense - to beat the Aggies 8-1 on Sunday, earning their 30th win of the season.
The UK pitching staff stepped up in a big way on Sunday. It began with starting Zack Lee, who pitched his way into, then out of, a bases-loaded jam in the first inning. Despite not having his best stuff on Sunday, Lee got through 3.1 innings while giving up just one run.
Mingione liked how Lee fought his way through the first frame.
"I thought it started on the mound. I thought Zack Lee, in the first inning, he didn't give in and they weren't able to score."
Mingione then turned to his bullpen, and the relievers, one after another, all delivered.
It started with Evan Byers, who came into the game in the fourth inning with two on and just one out. Byers was able to enduce a ground out, then get a strikeout of Trevor Warner to get out of the jam.
Colby Frieda followed with a scoreless inning in the sixth, followed by two shutout frames from Jackson Nove and a scoreless ninth from Magdiel Cotto.
Mingione loved the work of his relievers on Sunday.
"The job of our bullpen was phenomenal," the UK head coach said. "Evan Byers got us five key outs. Colby Frieda had a clean inning. Jackson Nove was great and it was good to see Mag (Cotto) get three punchouts in the end."
The pitchers did not do it on own, however. The UK defense was spectacular all day, especially in the outfield. Mingione knew that was a key.
"I thought we defended at a really high level," Mingione said. "I thought our outfield all did well. Nolan (McCarthy) ran to the ball well, Jackson Gray, Waldy (Ryan Waldschmidt) made two unbelievable plays."
The biggest defensive play of the game came in the top of the sixth inning. With UK holding a 4-1 lead, Texas A&M had a runner on first and one out when leadoff batter Hunter Haas laced a Frieda pitch into the gap in left-center field. That's where Waldschmidt, on a full sprint, reached up and snagged a potential extra-base hit.
The running catch would have been impressive on its own but Waldschmidt saw A&M's Hank Bard near the second base bag. So the UK left fielder made the throw to shortstop Grant Smith, who relayed on to Hunter Gilliam at first to complete the huge double play. Mingione saw that play as a turning point for the Cats.
"There was so many good things about that play," Mingione said. "Not only the way he ran to it but then, he had to make the catch. Then, he had to make the throw, then Grant Smith had to make the throw and he dropped it on a dime to Gilly. That was one of the key plays in the game. That changed the whole game."
From there, the Cats added four more runs to secure the victory by using a familiar formula.
"We pitched it, we defended it," Mingione said. "And when we do that, it gives our offense a chance to get going. Score a couple here, a couple there, then there's the big inning and the score ends up where it is."
- UK Coach Nick Mingione is in his seventh season at the helm and now owns a 206-138 career record. Mingione now is 5-7 vs. Texas A&M.
- Outfielder Jackson Gray went 3-for-3 with two runs, four RBI, with a triple, a home run and a walk. It was Gray's first home run since his grand slam at Western Kentucky on March 28. He now has four triples this season, the most in a season for a UK player in the Nick Mingione era (seven seasons). He has a season-high eight-game hit streak.
- Outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt went 2-for-5 with a double. He made two incredible catches in left field, one that began a double play.
- Pitcher Evan Byers earned his second win of the season.
Kentucky hosts Louisville on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET. The radio call will be on the UK Sports Network (630 AM WLAP, locally) and it will be aired on the SEC Network.