Eighth-Inning Rally Completes Home-Opening Win
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Gunnar McNeill and Luke Becker each delivered two-out RBI in the eighth inning to lift Kentucky from behind for a 3-2 win over Austin Peay in the 2016 home opener, on Wednesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The win marks the 17th consecutive home-opening win for Kentucky and the eighth straight for UK Coach Gary Henderson. UK fought off an eight-walk outing from its pitching staff, getting the key, eighth-inning RBI knocks from Becker and McNeill to claw back for its first comeback win of 2016.
Kentucky (4-3) and Austin Peay battled in UK’s home opener, with UK getting the scoring started behind a McNeill homer in the fourth inning. Austin Peay responded with two runs in the fifth inning to take the lead, with APSU reliever Jared Carkuff tossing shutout frames in the fifth, sixth and seventh. UK rallied in the bottom of the eighth with a pair of two-out runs, taking a 3-2 lead into the ninth. Freshman 6-foot-11 right-hander Sean Hjelle came on to earn his first save of the year.
The Wildcats collected two-hit games from McNeill, who launched his second homer of the year in a 2-for-4, two-RBI game, and Storm Wilson. UK also got hits from Becker, Kole Cottam, Riley Mahan and Tristan Pompey, with JaVon Shelby getting hit by a pitch and scoring a key run in the eighth.
UK starter Zach Pop worked into the fourth inning in his first start of the year, tossing 3.1 innings, allowing three hits and no earned runs, walking two and striking out two. With runners on the corners and one out, Zach Logue (0-0) came on in relief, who got a popped up double play on a bunt to escape. Logue worked 1.1 innings, allowing two runs on a pair of walks. Freshman Justin Lewis came on in the fifth in a bases loaded jam, allowing a run to score. Lewis worked a career-long two shutout innings, with freshman Daniel Tillo coming on to escape the seventh inning. Zach Strecker (1-0) started the eighth inning, earning his first win of the season with a shutout frame.
Austin Peay (4-4) starter, the lefty Rye, worked four innings, allowing three hits and one run, throwing 54 pitches. Carkuff tossed three-shutout, two-hit innings, striking out two. Caleb Powell started the eighth inning with a 2-1 lead, allowing a leadoff single before he was replaced by submarine righty CJ Burrow. Burrow (0-1) worked the eighth, allowing the decisive run.
UK will return to action on Friday, welcoming Buffalo for a three-game series, with first pitch at 4 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
McNeill got UK on the board in the fourth inning, smashing a solo homer – his second of the year – over the leftfield fence.
Austin Peay answered with a leadoff solo homer in the top of the fifth inning, as Ridge Smith ripped his second home run of the year over the leftfield fence. Clayton Smith then doubled and a pair of walks loaded the bases for Alex Robles, who drew a walk to force in Smith.
UK rallied in the bottom of the eighth inning, as Wilson led off with a single into the right-centerfield gap. After a fielder’s choice on a bunt, Shelby was hit by a pitch. A second fielder’s choice allowed McNeill to come to the plate. He lined a RBI single into the left-centerfield alley, scoring Shelby. Becker then delivered the go-ahead, pinch-hit single, scoring Pompey for a 3-2 lead.