Since Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson inserted freshman Kyle Barrett at the top of the batting lineup, Barrett is batting .500 (5-of-10) in his first two games as the Wildcats' new leadoff hitter while driving in four runs.
"When you look at the scoreboard, we weren't exactly banging it around and someone's got to step up," said Henderson. "(Barrett)'s done it a few times for us."
Barrett drove home Kentucky's first two runs of the game, including a game-tying RBI double to knot things up at two in the momentum-shifting bottom of the eighth.
While Barrett was continuing his hot start in the leadoff role, Zac Zellers looked to be rediscovering his stroke as well in the two spot. Coming into the game hitting just .272 (15-of-55) with runners in scoring position, Zellers ripped a one-out, two-run single to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game and put them ahead 4-2.
Sophomore center fielder Austin Cousino, now the third batter in the UK lineup, added an important - and ultimately decisive - insurance run with an RBI double in the four-run eighth.
Barrett seems to be transitioning into a role that may look familiar. Cousino came in as a freshman last season and took the reins as the Kentucky leadoff man. With Cousino now in a position to impact the UK offense as a more prominent run producer in the middle of the lineup, Barrett is providing this offense with a sparkplug at the top.
"He's really aggressive and gives us a strong presence," said Henderson. "He's done a really nice job of making hard contact with guys in scoring position. He's a threat defensively, so they've got to come in at the corners to take away a bunt, but the thing I like the most about him is his presence."
As a freshman, it took Barrett a while to finally break into the lineup on a consistent basis. It wasn't until the second game of UK's first Southeastern Conference series in Florida when Barrett would put a stranglehold on a starting spot that he's yet to relinquish.
Now batting .343 with a .397 on-base percentage, Barrett is the ideal man to get the offense going.
"He looks like a winner when he plays," said Henderson. "He just makes you proud to have him on your team."
Though it took him a solid portion of the season to finally break into the everyday lineup, Barrett feels like that's where he belongs. And his play is backing it up.
"I was honestly just glad to be out here," said Barrett. "It's just an awesome experience. I got my opportunity and took advantage of it. I'm still the cheerleader in the dugout, even though I'm playing."
It took Barrett and the Kentucky offense a while to finally get something going. After being swept by LSU last weekend on the road, the Wildcats needed to take advantage of the Volunteers back at home. With A.J. Reed on mound for the opener, Kentucky had to feel pretty good about its chances.
Reed held up his end of the bargain, allowing just two runs over 6.2 innings before leaving the game trailing 2-1 in the top of the seventh. It could have been worse, but as Reed has done time and again this season, he battled through a big-time jam to leave runners stranded at second and third in the sixth to keep the deficit at one.
"He's been fascinatingly good at that all year," said Henderson. "He has probably done something exactly like that or very close to it five times this year. It's fascinating. That's not coaching."
After Reed was lifted, Chandler Shepherd came in and gave the Wildcats 1.1 scoreless innings in relief, finishing off the Volunteers in the seventh and leading the Wildcats to the bottom half of the eighth where they would do the bulk of their offensive damage.
After Barrett doubled in the tying run in eighth to pull even at two, Zellers stepped in with a chance to give the Cats their first lead of the game. Zellers has yet to find his stroke from the 2012 season, but he put a solid swing on Dalton Saberhagen's delivery to drive in two go-ahead runs to make it 4-2.
The hit came in a huge moment as Zellers picked up his teammates as they have done for him throughout the season.
"It's always good to be able to come through for your team," said Zellers. "A lot of guys got on before me. Kyle had a great at-bat. All the guys before him were able to get on base. I was able to get the pitch I was looking for and we scored two, and that's what it's all about: picking up your teammates."
Kentucky would need all four eighth-inning runs to pull out the Friday-night winner, as UK's all-time saves leader picked up Zellers after his costly ninth-inning error. After Trevor Gott took care of the first Tennessee hitter, the Vols got two runs on a single to left field that got past Zellers.
In a jam, Gott settled in and delivered back-to-back outs including a strikeout to clinch the series opener, 5-4. With two more games remaining in the series including Saturday's 2 p.m. ET matchup at Cliff Hagan Stadium, the Cats were happy to get back into the SEC win column after they were swept last weekend at LSU.
"It's good to win on Friday," said Zellers. "We were able to get back on the right track, but we still have to win two more, though."