3:57:28:3-16-2021UKvsMurrayStBaseball

Kentucky Wildcat Ryan Ritter (47) runs to first base during the University of Kentucky vs. Murray State University baseball game on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 13-8. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

One of Kentucky’s newest Cats decided to make a grand entrance to the Battle of the Bluegrass.

Ryan Ritter has been everything and more that head coach Nick Mingione had asked for defensively since coming to Lexington. The JUCO product instantly took command of the shortstop position in the Fall and hasn’t looked back. Despite being slotted as the ninth hitter in the order for most games so far he hasn’t really slouched at all at the plate either, slashing slightly over .300 on the year.

If there were still any left, Ritter silenced those questions about his bat against the rival Cardinals. The sophomore went 3-for-4 on the night, coming up a triple short of the cycle but recording six RBI in Kentucky’s 11-7 victory at No. 5 Louisville.

In the top of the second, Ritter launched a three-run home run – just his second dinger of the year - off the batter’s eye to kick start a scoring spree. After the Cardinals matched with three of their own in the bottom of the frame, Ritter found himself back at the dish the next half inning looking for more.

More is what he provided. With the bases loaded this time, he got hold of the first pitch he saw and sent it off the fence in left-center field, mere feet away from being another home run. Chase Estep, Oraj Anu and Coltyn Kessler all came around to score on the play, while Ritter stood on second after doubling up the Cardinals on his own. TJ Collett added on by ripping a two-RBI double into left field a few batters later, providing what would ultimately be the winning run.

Austin Schultz and Kessler each tacked on in the fifth – with a single and sac fly, respectively – to snare some insurance runs.

With uncertainty reigning throughout the rotation after the injury to Mason Hazelwood and subsequent promotion of Ryan Hagenow to weekend status, Mingione decided to have another bullpen day.

Holt Jones served as the opener, but if results mean anything, he may not want to fill that role again. He lasted 1.1 innings in the start, but walked two and allowed three earned runs. A litany of players followed out of the pen throughout the game; seven Cats, in fact. Sean Harney got the win behind 0.2 innings pitched, the same amount Hunter Rigsby tossed for the save. Dillon Harper and Alex Degen combined to throw 4.1 innings of one-run ball to carry the bulk of the load.      

With a top-10 win under its belt, Kentucky can carry some newfound confidence and momentum into a critical weekend series with LSU. Game one is set for Friday night at 6:30 p.m. E.T. on SEC Network Plus.