Coming off a week in which the Tigers went 4-1, Steve Bieser’s group looked to keep the momentum rolling. There was no midweek game this week, so the sole focus for the Tigers was a three game series in Lexington to kick off SEC play versus a red-hot Wildcats team.
Friday night meant Spencer Miles was taking the bump for the Tigers, and his issues with inconsistencies continued. After tossing an absolute gem last Friday night, Miles was hit hard early, and often. In his four innings of work, he surrendered 10 hits and 7 runs, with all 7 coming in the first two innings. The Tiger offense couldn’t muster anything either only tallying two runs, one in the 8th and one in the 9th. When it was all said and done, Kentucky’s potent offense and 7 shutout innings from Cole Stupp were enough for a 10-2 Wildcat victory.
On Saturday, the Tigers came out looking like a different team than the one that took the field on Friday. Thanks to a 2-run CJ Cepicky triple and a Tre Morris sac fly, the Tigers plated 3 early runs to give Seth Halvorsen some breathing room on the mound. Behind that early run support, Halvorsen was able to spin a quality start, going six innings and giving up three earned, all in the third. To help Halvorsen out, Josh Day made a highlight-reel catch at SS proving just how important he is to this team on both sides of the ball.
The moment of the game for the Tigers came from Ian Lohse in the 7th innings when he entered the game from the Tigers bullpen. The freshman surrendered a leadoff triple to start the inning but quickly responded by striking out the side and letting out Max Scherzer-Esque emotion as he strutted back to the dugout.
The score remained deadlocked at 3-3 until a Ryan Ritter sac fly off Lohse gave the Wildcats a 4-3 lead in the 8th, but the Tigers weren’t done. In the top of the 9th, Alex Peterson came up as a pinch hitter and delivered a game-tying infield single to send the game to the bottom half of the inning. Unfortunately for the Tigers, a passed ball would be their undoing and the Wildcats walked it off on the Mizzou error.
Being down 2-0 in the series going into Sunday isn’t an enviable position, but the Tigers held their heads high and responded with their marquee performance of the season. Trailing for most of the game, the Tigers went into the 7th inning looking for a spark down 3-0. They found that in the bat of Tre Morris who took a ball over the LF fence and gave the Tigers life at 3-1. Luckily for the Tigers, the 8th inning called for an encore. This time with two runners on, Cameron Swanger stepped up to pinch hit, and what he saw was a slider that didn’t break. Naturally, Swanger deposited the hanging breaking ball well over the LF fence and gave the Tigers a 4-3 lead. In the 9th, the Tigers tacked on an insurance run thanks to a Josh Day double that scored Mark Vierling, and the pen shut the door in the bottom half of the inning. That late offensive surge was good enough to give the Tigers their first SEC win, and something to build on before Vandy comes to town.
Winning on Friday Nights
Winning on Friday night is essential to winning a weekend series in college baseball. In the two series that the Tigers haven’t lost, Spencer Miles has delivered shutouts on Friday night.
4 IP 10H 7 ER— that was Miles’ line on Friday night in a blowout 10-2 loss for the Tigers. Miles has been great in some games this year, but he’s also struggled. The Tiger ace can’t seem to string together starts like a ballclub needs their ace to do. If Miles can’t, it could be a very long SEC season for the 2021 Tigers.
It would be easy to say that Miles has pitched well against two of the more inferior teams on the Tigers schedule, Omaha and Illinois State, but there’s more to pitching than just facing a good offense.
Outside of Miles, the Tigers surrendered 10 runs in 23 innings this weekend, which is good enough for a 3.91 ERA, or what most would consider to be a good enough ERA that decent hitting can win you games. That shows you Kentucky’s offense, while potent, wasn’t so dominating that it was inevitable Miles would be hit hard. So let’s throw the idea out that Miles has only pitched well against the inferior competition because his stuff isn’t that good.
Miles has it in the tank to deliver on Friday nights, and no one will dispute that. It’s all about if the Spencer Miles of last week will show up or the Spencer Miles of this week will. The Tiger starters pitched serviceably on Saturday and Sunday, and Miles needs to join that club next weekend.
Vandy comes to town and that means the most elite of the elite college pitching will be front and center in Columbia on Friday and Saturday. Kumar Rocker has given up 2 ER all year, and that means the Tigers will be lucky to score a run and need a shutout minimum from Miles on Friday to have a chance. Will he step up to the plate? Or will the Tigers start another weekend series against a quality opponent behind the 8-ball?
Standout Performers of the Weekend
Cameron Swanger - The man had only 3 ABs this weekend, but how can he not get the top spot after the absolute missile he launched into orbit on Sunday?!
Andrew Keefer — The RF tallied two multi-hit games and five total hits on the weekend. He also scored two runs and made a great running grab in the outfield.
Check Rock M on later this week for more baseball content and a breakdown of the upcoming weekend series again No. 1 Vanderbilt.