Becker making strong stretch run

TURNING TWO — Kentucky second baseman Luke Becker (left) forces out Texas Tech runner Gabe Holt at second base before completing the throw to first base for a double play during regular-season NCAA Division I baseball in Lexington, Ky. Becker, a former Fairmont High School three-sport athletic standout, has played a key role in guiding the No. 8-ranked Wildcats to a 23-10 overall record this season. (Courtesy of Leanna Mahoney)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Playing at third base last year was a challenge for Luke Becker, causing him to make adjustments to his throwing mechanics.

Now in his senior year, Becker is back to a familiar position at second base as the No. 8-ranked Kentucky Wildcats hold a 23-10 record midway through the season.

“I love it at second base. That’s kind of where I’ve played all my life until last year,” Becker said.

The defensive familiarity has translated favorably to offensive success. Becker, who made the Preseason Coaches all-SEC second team, is batting .325, accumulating eight doubles, two triples and five home runs for 38 hits, 27 runs and 22 RBIs.

Starting every game this season, Becker is also tied for second on the team for most stolen bases with six and has reached base in each of the last 76 games played.

“I’m definitely an offensively-minded person like a lot of people out there, but if you’re not rolling on defense, that can roll over to your offense and how you’re producing on the offense,” he said. “Putting it all together — offense and defense — is huge for me, especially with the draft coming up. If I can be at the top of my game on both sides of the ball, that’s very important.”

Becker is hoping to hear his name called during the Major League Baseball Draft coming up in 50 days. Some scouts have spoken with Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione, and Becker is doing what he can on his end.

“The next step for me is getting an advisor and getting some help from other people that know the scouts and that kind of stuff,” he said.

Becker still has half of the regular season and the postseason to show MLB scouts what he can do on a talent-infused Wildcats team. Despite losing six key players from 2017, the Wildcats return Tristan Pompey, who was named the SEC player of the week, Kole Cottam, Troy Squires, Zack Thompson, Justin Lewis and reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle.

Conference play is crucial and a good barometer of how ready the Wildcats are to make it to the College World Series in Omaha. The SEC currently has eight ranked teams with half being in the top 10, including No. 1-ranked Florida, who the Wildcats host in a series starting Thursday. Before that, the Wildcats travel to No. 18-ranked Georgia for the conference series this weekend.

Kentucky, 5-7 in conference action, did pick up a crucial series victory against the University of South Carolina last weekend. With the series split 1-1 heading into the final game last Sunday, Becker hit a home run on his birthday as the Wildcats beat the Gamecocks, 10-5. The last Wildcat to homer on his birthday was Austin Cousino in 2012.

If they were an average team, the Wildcats would be satisfied with their current position, but there is a higher standard held by everyone in the program.

“Winning two out of three on a typical team is good, but with this team, we can be really, really good. It’s that time of the year when we need to start doing that,” Becker said. “We show glimpses, but once we pull it all together, it’s going to be hard to beat us come playoff time.”

As if the Wildcats’ second baseman needed more motivation to get to Omaha, he hopes to be able to achieve the feat for his hometown community. His family regularly supports him and attends games during the season, but wants more of his Fairmont family and friends to be able to have a reason to attend the biggest event in college baseball.

“I don’t think there’d be anything better than going to Omaha, getting the Fairmont community to come down and watch that. I know a lot of people would love that, so that would be a good dream come true to get there,” Becker said.

It seems that everything is aligned for Luke Becker to make his case on why he should get to the next level. He’s returned to second base on defense and continues to rise as one of the Wildcats’ offensive weapons.

“At this point, it’s just me playing the best that I can and everything will take care of itself,” he said.