LEXINGTON, Ky. — The rain that blanketed Lexington was not enough to dampen Kentucky’s hit parade Sunday.
The Wildcats tagged LSU for 18 hits, and the Tigers were not able to hold serve as they dropped the series' rubber match 10-2.
By the time the seventh inning had ended, LSU had allowed a season high in hits (17), topping the mark of 16 set by the Wildcats in Friday’s series opener. While Kentucky was pounding away, LSU was smothered by right-hander Justin Lewis (6-2), who scattered six hits during a complete game.
“It was a miserable day in every way,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We got off to a rough start, and it just went downhill from there.”
Freshman right-hander Eric Walker (5-1) had allowed just two earned runs in his previous three starts covering 22.2 innings, but Kentucky was locked onto him from the start.
Kentucky sent eight batters to the plate in a four-run first inning, and seven of them reached base. LSU avoided a monster inning by throwing out two runners at the plate.
Walker said command of his four-seam fastball, usually the foundation of his success, “was nowhere to be found.” He needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning.
“I didn’t do a very good job pitching — that’s the bottom line,” Walker said. “They did a great job hitting, and they won today.”
After a quiet second inning, Kentucky (28-13, 12-6 Southeastern Conference) knocked Walker out of the game in the third. In that inning, Walker allowed back-to-back home runs to Kole Cottam and Riley Mahan that pushed UK’s lead to 7-1. Walker was pulled after hitting catcher Trey Squires with one out in the inning, having thrown 34 of 62 pitches for strikes.
“The kid has pitched so great for us all year; it was just one of those days for him,” Mainieri said. “Tough conditions, he was facing the best hitting team in the league, and with the wind (blowing strong) to right field in a ballpark that is the definition of a hitter’s park, he just had a tough time."
Kentucky expanded its lead to 10-1 in the fourth with a three-run inning off Austin Bain, as Kentucky’s Nos. 2 through 5 hitters picked up four straight base hits. The top five in the Wildcats' order finished Sunday’s game 15 for 23.
Lewis gave LSU (27-14, 10-8) almost no opportunities to make the game competitive. He needed just 108 pitches to record the complete game, and he retired 19 of the last 21 batters he faced.
Although Lewis was not throwing the ball hard, he did what Walker had done all season: Pound the strike zone with an unpredictable mix of fastballs and offspeed pitches.
“He threw his changeup as good as you can ask him to,” said second baseman Cole Freeman, who had one of LSU’s six hits. “He threw it in any count, kept us off-balance really well.”
Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said that by keeping LSU’s lineup down with an economical effort, Lewis saved the bullpen. Most of the Wildcats’ top arms were burned up in Friday’s doubleheader, including closer Logan Salow, who threw 81 pitches in Kentucky’s lone loss of the series.
Lewis escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second, then only allowed one LSU player — Nick Coomes, who hit a solo homer in the sixth — to advance past first base the rest of the game. He left the field in the eighth having thrown 101 pitches.
“That guy walked off the field, and he looked (pitching coach Jim Belanger) and I in the eye and said, ‘I got the ninth,’ ” Mingione said. “He wanted it.”
With four weekends left in the regular season, LSU finds itself lumped in the middle of the pack, three games out of first place in the SEC's Western Division. The Tigers were 10-8 in conference play at this juncture last season as well.
“We’ve got our head above water,” Mainieri said. “We’ve just got to regroup and get ready for Tulane on Tuesday.”