Mahan Experiences Highs and Lows in UK Victory

Saturday’s game didn’t start in an ideal fashion for Kentucky shortstop Riley Mahan. But the joy in the end more than made up for the pain at the beginning.

Mahan hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Wildcats to a 6-2 win over Alabama on Saturday at Cliff Hagan Stadium. 

But Mahan’s day, up until that point, hadn’t gone so well. In fact, in the bottom of the second inning, there was a question of whether Mahan would be able to stay in the game. While running out a sacrifice bunt, Mahan collided with Alabama second baseman Codie Vance, who was covering first base on the play.

“The throw took him across the bag, and I wasn’t really expecting him, and I ran into a brick wall, that’s a big boy,” Mahan said of Vance. “I rebounded, felt alright and came back in. I had a little bloody nose. My lip was bleeding, too, but I got it cleaned up.”

Not only did Mahan stay in the game, he actually made another important play in the eighth inning. After Luke Becker led off the frame with a single, Mahan moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt. Becker would eventually score on an infield single by Kole Cottam to give Kentucky a 2-1 lead and to put the Wildcats in a position to win.

But in the top of the ninth, Alabama catcher Will Haynie hit a solo home run down the left field line to tie the game at 2, setting the stage for Mahan’s heroics in the bottom of the inning.

Kentucky’s ninth-inning rally started with singles by JaVon Shelby and Gunnar McNeill. After an intentional walk to Zach Reks, Alabama made a pitching change, going to hard-throwing lefty Jon Keller. 

Becker was the first to face Keller, and the Alabama southpaw got the best of that matchup, striking out Becker. But in the process, he showed Mahan a pattern that paid off for the UK shortstop.

“I saw a couple of pitches to Becker, he threw the curveball down, but he was bouncing it,” Mahan said. “So I just wanted to see that, and then when I saw the fastball, I just put a good swing on it.”

That might be the understatement of the day. Mahan hit a towering drive over the Kentucky Baseball sign in right center field and into the parking lot, setting off a celebration and clinching a fourth straight SEC series for the Wildcats (22-8, 8-3 SEC).

“It was a great at-bat for Riley, and a great at-bat for our club,” said Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson. “I’m really happy for Riley and his ability to square one up there in the bottom of the ninth.”

Pending the rest of Saturday’s results, Kentucky now finds itself within a half-game of the SEC lead, and in position for the Big Blue’s first sweep of the year on Sunday.

“It’s hard to sweep in this league, and that’s a really good team,” Henderson said of Alabama. “We have a chance to sweep tomorrow, and those are really hard to come by, so hopefully we’ll show up and play well again.”

First pitch for Sunday’s series finale is set for 1 p.m. at the Cliff.