Kentucky came up with an unconventional 3-2 win over Ole Miss and captured the all-important first game of the a series against Ole Miss Friday night at a packed Cliff Hagan Stadium. The Wildcats were out hit 14-7 and committed 3 errors, yet still came out on top.
While UK made a couple miscues in the field, the number was not indicative of the leather they flashed all night. The first two Ole Miss at bats ended in great defensive plays that saved runs for UK starter Taylor Rogers. Right fielder Cameron Flynn made a fantastic run-saving running catch heading toward the line, and center fielder Austin Cousino came up with big throw to home to keep the game scoreless.
"I thought our overall defensive effort was good," said head coach Gary Henderson. "And clearly our three errors weren't characteristic of us. I thought we forced the game a little bit."
It wasn't Rogers' best start of the year, but he battled and got outs when he needed them. He also had a lot of help from that Kentucky defense. Cousino, who reached base twice with a double and a walk, came away with three outfield assists, two at home plate.
Cousino was quick to credit the team and the collective effort for their ability to grab the first game of the series.
"It takes a team effort every day," said Cousino. "And I couldn't do it without the other eight guys behind me and the other 26 in the dugout. It's a whole team effort. And anyone else on our team will tell you the individual stuff is great, but I'll take this game any day. A 3-2 win over an SEC opponent on a Friday rather than a 4-5 night with a loss by one."
The Cats grabbed their first run of the game in the bottom of the second inning when Matt Reida squeaked one between the legs of the Ole Miss shortstop to give them a 1-0 lead. Ole Miss countered in the top of third when Cousino lost a ball in the sun, but still recorded a run despite Cousino getting the force out at second with a runner at first.
In the fourth, the Rebels grabbed the lead when third baseman Andrew Mistone drove in Preston Overbey with a double off of Zac Zellers' glove in left field to go up 2-1.
Kentucky thought it tied it the game in the fourth when Michael Williams flew out to the right fielder, presumably for a sacrifice fly to score Cameron Flynn from third. But it was not to be. Ole Miss appealed to third and the umpire called Flynn out for leaving before Overbey made the catch in right field.
Henderson turned to his left hander out of the bullpen in Alex Phillips after Rogers gutted out five innings of 11-hit, two-run baseball while striking out five. Phillips rewarded Henderson and Rogers with a dazzling relief performance.
Phillips did his job in mowing down Rebel batters, surrendering just 3 hits in 3.1 innings. He found success in throwing first-pitch strikes.
"That's one thing that we really emphasize here is getting ahead on the hitters," said Phillips. "Then we can go work after that. It makes all of our jobs a little bit easier."
It was Henderson's plan all along. With Phillips cruising, he knew he could ride him out until his closer Trevor Gott was needed.
Kentucky evened the tally at 2-2 when Luke Maile, as he's done all season, got things going for the Cats in sixth. After leading off with a double, he moved to third on a passed ball to putting himself in prime scoring position. In textbook fashion, Zellers drove him in with a sacrifice fly and Maile slid in under the tag.
With Phillips taking care of the Ole Miss offense, Maile became the spark plug again and jump-started the quieted UK offensive attack. The junior backstop lined a double to the left field gap with one out to put himself in scoring position, granting Flynn a chance at redemption.
Flynn, who was called out after leaving early on a tag-up attempt, delivered on cue with a single up the middle to plate Maile and give the Cats a 3-2 lead.
While Henderson was happy with Flynn's go-ahead RBI, he couldn't help but go back to the beginning of the game to one of Flynn's larger contributions.
"I was really impressed with that," said Henderson about Flynn's single up the middle. "I think as much as anything, I was really impressed with the ball he caught in the first inning. You know, that ball drops, that's two runs and you've got a whole different ball game."
But as it were, the Wildcats led 3-2 heading into the top of the ninth.
Phillips went back out for the ninth and recorded the first out, but then Henderson brought on his closer Trevor Gott to finish things off. Gott walked a batter, but recorded the final two outs for his seventh save of the year, good for the second most in a season by a Wildcat.
When the dust settled, Kentucky (29-2, 8-2) got the win and held the early, but important 1-0 series lead on Ole Miss with a chance to win the series Saturday afternoon.
"It's always important," said Henderson about winning the first game of the series. "It sets the tone for the weekend. It doesn't guarantee anything on Saturday and Sunday, but those Friday night wins are tough to get. They're important for the energy you take into Saturday, and we're really pleased to get one tonight."