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Tuesday recap: Kentucky gets emotional win, Clarke's power binge continues

 Barry Allen and Chris Lee   in Baseball

Kentucky remembers a fallen teammate and opens its season with a win, while nobody can get South Carolina's Wes Clarke out

Photo credits: Grant Lee, Kentucky athletics (Ryan Hagenow pictured) and Faith Worrell, South Carolina athletics (Wes Clarke)

The Southeastern Conference went 6-1 in Tuesday's baseball action; here's a closer look at what went on.

Kentucky remembers Ben Jordan and gets an Opening Day win

Kentucky got a much-needed 5-1 win over Miami (Ohio) in its season opener at Kentucky Proud Park. UK played its first game since the Covid-19 pandemic and the death of pitcher Ben Jordan.

The Wildcats honored their fallen teammate in a pregame moment of silence then watched heralded freshman right-hander Ryan Hagenow struck out the side in his collegiate debut. 

Not to be outdone, the UK offense strolled to the plate and smacked three first-inning home runs in the 5-1 win over Miami-Ohio.

Three strikeouts followed by three home runs. 

Oh, did we mention Jordan wore the number 3 on the UK baseball team. 

“You can’t draw up a better first (inning),” UK coach Nick Mingione said. 

Hagenow, who is the highest rated recruit in school history, is projected at a high draft pick in the 2023 MLB Draft. He cruised through four scoreless innings and allowed one hit and struck out six batters, including the first four he faced in his UK career.

Junior preseason All-American Austin Schultz opened the bottom of the first with a single and scored two batters later when slugger T.J. Collett smacked a two-run home run to dead center field. It was Collett’s 27th career dinger, the most among active SEC players. 

Senior outfielder Oraj Anu stepped into box next and launched a solo homer, giving the Cats back-to-back dingers.  

Junior outfielder Cam Hill hit the third homer of the inning two batters later to put UK in front 4-0.

 Kentucky was the last SEC team to open the season. UK was supposed to have played at North Carolina this past weekend in Chapel Hill, but the series was cancelled due to Covid issues in the Wildcats program. With the cancellation, UK opened the season at home for the time since 1983 (Xavier).

Clarke, Gamecocks putting up video game numbers

South Carolina preseason All-American Wes Clarke continued his torrid start to the 2021 season.

 Clarke belted three home runs in the Gamecocks 12-4 win over Winthrop. He leads the SEC with six home runs and has more home runs than 10 SEC teams. His ridiculous start has him on pace to hit 84 home runs during the 56-game regular season.

 Clarke went 3-for-3 with four runs scored, three RBI and two walks in becoming the first Gamecock to hit three home runs in a game since Justin Smoak had three homers against USC Upstate in 2008. 

 Through four games, he is hitting .769 (10-for-13) with 11 runs scored, two doubles, six home runs and 12 RBIs. He has also compiled an eye-popping 2.308 slugging percentage and a .850 on-base percentage. 

 As a team, South Carolina hit seven home runs in the game, the most by the Gamecocks since a win over Winthrop in 2010. Andrew EysterBraylen WimmerDavid Mendham and Josiah Sightler also homered for the Gamecocks.

The Gamecocks hit four home runs in the eighth inning. Wimmer, Clarke and Mendham went back-to-back-to-back, the first time that has happened from the Gamecocks since they hit five straight home runs in the 2006 Athens Super Regional vs. Georgia.

 South Carolina leads the SEC with 14 home runs in four games.

Florida rebounds by beating Jacksonville

After dropping two of three to Miami over the weekend, Florida rebounded with 9-6 win at Jacksonville. Left fielder Jacob Young led the Gators with three hits, while Jordan Butler reached base four times and gave up two earned runs across three innings.

The Gators made two errors and the bullpen made it interesting as they allowed three runs in the ninth.

The late innings plagued the Gators in the series loss to Miami. UF has allowed seven ninth-inning runs this season.

One note for UF was the return of Garrett Milchin, who has not pitched for the Gators since June 23, 2017 against TCU in the College World Series. He had been sidelined with two elbow surgeries. Milchin started against JU and worked two innings. He allowed one unearned run and three hits with one walk and three strikeouts. 

The Gators did not play well behind him.

“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t play good enough defense behind Garrett,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We were trying to three innings out of him – we had an error in the second, error in the first on a throw.”

Yellowhammer power

Both Alabama and Auburn hit lead off home runs on Tuesday as Alabama beat preseason Ohio Valley Conference favorite Jacksonville State by a 5-2 count, while Auburn bludgeoned Alabama A&M by an 18-2 count.

 Alabama freshman Peyton Wilson, who started in left field at Jacksonville State, led off the game with a home run against the Gamecocks. It was his second homer of the season.

A few minute later and a little more than 100 miles away, Auburn senior leftfielder Judd Ward homered on the second pitch to ignite a 10-run first inning against Alabama A&M.  It was Ward’s second home run of the year.

Auburn sent 16 batters to plate and tallied seven hits in the inning and took advantage of three errors. Bryson Ware slugged a two-run homer two batters after Ward

Vols find offense

Tennessee defeated Arkansas Pine Bluff 21-1 in the home opener at Lindsay Nelson Stadium. 

The Vols scored 11 runs on nine hits in the bottom of the eighth inning. Six different players had a hit in the inning and the Vols tallied six extra base hits in the frame.

All-American second baseman Max Ferguson also homered and led the Vols with four RBIs. 

Aggies stumble again

Texas A&M has lost three of its first four games, following a 6-5 home loss to Abilene Christian. The Aggies trailed 3-1 in the fourth inning but scored the next four runs; including three in the fifth to take a 5-3 lead. ACU tied the game with two runs in the sixth and scored the winning run in the ninth.

The Aggies lost two of three at home to Xavier this past weekend to open the season.

Texas A&M ranks 11th in the SEC with a .244 batting average through four games.

The Aggies' pitching struggled with control on Tuesday, walking four men and hitting three.