The Bobcats reached their 2014 win total in just the 17th game of the season.
After all the commotion surrounding the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this weekend, Kentucky was due for an ego check.
And when Ohio rolled into Lexington, Kentucky, Tuesday afternoon, its high-powered offense was ready to return to form and deliver just that kind of punch.
The Bobcats got to the Wildcats’ pitching staff early and often, knocking around 16 hits and holding off a pair of late rallies to defeat Kentucky 10-7. With the win, Ohio was able to match its win total from 2014 just 17 games into its new season.
“I knew coming into this year that we had a much better team than we had the previous year,” said coach Rob Smith. “So I’m not completely surprised (about reaching 11 wins this early). We’re certainly excited and happy about it, but 11 wins isn’t our goal for the year for sure.”
Ohio (11-6) got things going early with a pair of first inning runs off Kentucky starter Robert Zeigler, but were matched quickly as Kentucky (13-6) plated two of its own off Jake Rudnicki in the bottom of the first.
From there, both starters headed in very different directions, with Rudnicki settling and pacing his team while Zeigler continued to struggle. Ohio ran Zeigler in the second inning, but not before building a 5-2 lead, and moving ahead 6-2 by the time Rudnicki departed in the fifth.
Rudnicki pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on six hits while walking two and striking out two. Spencer Sapp recorded the final out of the fifth inning, and recorded the win for his efforts.
Smith said he was happy to see Rudnicki get past some of his recent struggles and settle in for a solid start against a tough Kentucky offense.
“I thought we had a quality start of Jake,” Smith said. “I was really proud of what he did and happy for him that was able to get back on track a little bit.”
Ohio reached its biggest lead of the game in the top of the sixth inning, when it scored two more runs and increased its lead to 8-2. That lead shrunk considerably in the bottom of the frame, however, as control issues for Jeremy Cronk resulted in four runs crossing the plate for Kentucky on four walks and a hit by pitch.
The Wildcats would continue to attempt to crawl back into the game in the following two innings, but instead were shut down with runners on base by some clutch relief pitching. Corey Wells stranded a pair of runners in the seventh inning, while Logan Cozart entered the game in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and nobody out and allowed just one run to cross the plate. Cozart finished the game with a perfect ninth inning to secure his fourth save of the season.
The Bobcats’ win was powered by the top of their lineup, with Manny DeJesus, Garrett Black and Mitch Longo combining to go 9-for-13 with seven RBIs and seven runs scored in the game. Ohio also got another star performance from Cody Gaertner, who finished the game with a 3-for-5 showing and an RBI.
For Kentucky, the defeat was the first the team has suffered at home this season, after entering the game with a 5-0 record in Lexington. For Ohio, the win allows it to move into conference play on a high note, as it looks ahead to a three-game set at Central Michigan this weekend to open up its Mid-American Conference season.