In his first spring in Lexington, Reuben Church seems to be finding a comfortable spot in this Kentucky lineup.
Batting .500 through the season’s opening week, the freshman dazzled teammates and fans alike at Kentucky Proud Park once again on Wednesday evening, going 2-for-3 with three RBI. Two of those came in the seventh inning on a bases-loaded double that ultimately helped seal an 8-5 Wildcat victory over pesky Evansville.
“He is a very intelligent baseball player,” head coach Nick Mingione said postgame about his newcomer. “He’s just a really good competitor. It’s exciting to see… especially with all these RBI.”
It took Evansville all of two pitches to give Kentucky its first deficit of the early season. Purple Ace DH Danny Borgstrom sent Austin Strickland’s 1-0 offering just over the wall in right field to get the game started.
Strickland, making his first collegiate start after a successful debut last weekend against Milwaukee, struggled through his first frame, allowing the homer, a double and single to open the game. But he rebounded from there, striking out three of the next four batters to end the inning and scattering only a hit and walk apiece in the following three.
His final stat line – four innings, four hits, three earned runs, six strikeouts – demonstrated both the Winchester, Ohio native’s current raw nature and top-notch potential.
“I thought it was big in the first to just let it at two and not to let it get it to three,” Mingione told reporters about Strickland’s effort to end the first.
The game was tied 3-3 heading into the fifth inning. Kentucky, brimming with momentum as sloppy pitching from Evansville led its margin to dissipate, picked up even more as Oraj Anu beat out the throw on a leadoff triple to give the Cats an early runner in scoring position. Church then sent the first pitch he saw back up the middle, putting Kentucky in front for the first time.
After a flurry of defensive errors from the Cats that allowed Evansville to retake the lead in the seventh inning, Church was tasked with saving Kentucky once more. The third baseman again delivered, ripping a ball into the left-center gap with the bases juiced. The two-bagger brought in Austin Schultz and John Rhodes while pushing Kentucky ahead for good.
Holt Jones and Sean Harney gave class performances out of the bullpen on the backend. Jones went over two innings of work, not allowing a hit nor an earned run.
“He was fantastic.” Mingione said about Jones, his transfer reliever from Clemson.
Harney shut down the Purple Aces in the ninth, pick up his second save in as many days after inducing a double-play ball to end it.
Now sitting at 6-0 on the year, the Wildcats get a day to prepare for a weekend series in Lexington versus. Friday’s first pitch at Kentucky Proud Park is set for 4:00 p.m. E.T., with the broadcast available on SEC Network Plus.