Kentucky Proud Park was alive with energy as the Wildcats aced their first home test of the 2023 season with a 6-3 victory over Evansville on Tuesday night. The game was marked by several firsts, as redshirt freshman Travis Smith earned the first victory of his career, while sophomore Mason Moore recorded his first save. The Wildcats utilized an all-around team effort to secure the win, with five different players driving in runs.
Smith, a Walton, Kentucky native, made his collegiate debut, pitching 3.0 innings and allowing just one run on three hits. This was a momentous occasion for Smith, who had to sit out last season to recover from arm surgery during high school. Meanwhile, Moore gave up just one hit and struck out four as he held Evansville scoreless over the final three innings.
Sophomore Emilien Pitre continued his impressive form with three more hits, bringing his total to seven in the past two games. Senior Hunter Gilliam also shone, making two sparkling defensive plays at first base. Additionally, senior Isaiah Byars picked up his first three base hits in a Kentucky uniform.
The Wildcats displayed their versatile approach to the game, utilizing three sacrifice bunts, three stolen bases, two bunt hits, and five hit batsmen to cause chaos on the bases. On the mound, the pitching staff was outstanding, with a 1.54 earned run average and 39 strikeouts in four games.
Kentucky’s head coach, Nick Mingione, is in his seventh season at the helm and now boasts an impressive 179-130 career record. The Wildcats have an excellent track record in non-conference games under Mingione, with a 112-37 record, and have been dominant against non-Power Five opponents, with a record of 98-15.
The Wildcats’ pitching staff has been in fine form this season, striking out 39 batters and walking just seven in three games. The starting pitchers have been particularly impressive, with 19 innings, three runs, and 19 strikeouts between them. The bullpen has also been solid, allowing just three runs in 16 innings.
Several players have stood out this season, including catcher Devin Burkes, who has reached base safely in 17 consecutive games dating back to the 2022 season. First baseman Hunter Gilliam has started 117 consecutive games at the collegiate level, while infielder Grant Smith has started all 120 games of his collegiate career. Notably, Smith has been hit by a pitch four times in four games. Infielder Emilien Pitre has been in excellent form recently, going 3-for-5 in the Evansville game and recording seven hits in his last ten at-bats. Infielder Isaiah Byars also had an impressive outing, recording the first three hits of his Kentucky career.
The Wildcats will now turn their attention to their upcoming three-game series against Wright State, which starts on Friday at 4 p.m. ET at Kentucky Proud Park. The game will be streamed on SECN+, and the radio call will be on the UK Sports Network. With their impressive performance against Evansville and their solid start to the season, the Wildcats will be looking to continue their winning ways in the upcoming series.