UK Strands 11 Runners on Base in 4-2 Loss to Vandy

March 22, 2009

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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A day after posting a series-clinching win against Vanderbilt, the Kentucky Wildcats left 11 runners on base and gave up two go-ahead runs in the top of the sixth inning in a 4-2 loss to the Commodores, on a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

The loss gives UK its first home loss of the year, snapping an 11-game home winning streak. UK has now won three of the last four series meetings between the two schools and has claimed four wins in the last five games with the Commodores. The potent UK pitching staff – headlined by Friday starter James Paxton and Saturday starter Chris Rusin – held down the Vanderbilt offense, an offense that entered the series averaging 8.2 runs per game. During the series, UK held Vandy to seven runs combined, outscoring the Commodores 11-7.

UK left a total of 11 base runners on in the game, including eight runners in the last five innings. UK’s 11 men left on is a season-high for nine-inning games, as UK stranded 12 runners in an 11-inning win at New Orleans.

Kentucky (15-5, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) returns to action with a mid-week road matchup in Charleston, W.Va., facing off with Big East member West Virginia Tuesday, with first pitch slated for 6 p.m. ET. Fans can catch the action live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action.

The nature of the game changed drastically after a controversial ruling in the bottom of the first inning, a ruling that ended in a triple play. UK was mounting a big first inning and had Vanderbilt starter Nick Christiani on the ropes, plating one run and loading the bases without an out. The intriguing triple play started when Marcus Nidiffer hit a soft line drive that was thought to be caught by the shortstop for the first out – after crew chief and first base umpire David Savage gave a fist signal with his right hand – with the other two outs coming when two Kentucky players didn’t tag on the play. That was not the case, as the official ruling was the ball was not caught by the shortstop, Brian Harris. After Harris made the play, he threw home to get a force out of Chris Wade for the first out, then to third base for a force out of Keenan Wiley, the second out of the inning. The third baseman then threw the ball back to the pitcher thinking the play was over, the pitcher threw the ball to the second baseman who stepped on second base to complete the triple play with a force out of Braden Kapteyn. The correct scoring of the play was not known until post-game, as the actions of the umpires and the calls on the field appeared to contradict themselves. 

For the second consecutive Sunday, UK turned to freshman right-hander Alex Meyer, who made his fourth career start. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound righty lasted three innings for UK, allowing two hits, one earned run and striking out two. Meyer, a native of Greensburg, Ind., worked in and out of trouble in his three innings, walking five guys.

UK used four other pitchers in the game, including junior Tyler Henry, sophomore Logan Darnell, junior Clint Tilford and freshman Braden Kapteyn. Henry replaced Meyer, going three innings, giving up four hits, two earned runs while walking and striking out two. Henry (0-1) suffered his first loss of the season, allowing the decisive runs in the sixth inning. Darnell and Tilford put up similar numbers for the Wildcats, with Darnell going 1.1 innings and Tilford going one frame. Both pitchers allowed one hit with Tilford giving up an earned run. Kapteyn got the final two outs for the Wildcats, striking out a batter and giving up only one hit.

Vandy turned to its senior starter, Christiani (3-0), to salvage the series, and the righty hurled six innings, allowing only two runs, two walks, while striking out six. The Commodores then turned to star freshman pitcher Sonny Gray, a preseason pick for NCAA Freshman of the Year, by Baseball America. Gray, a fire-balling Smyrna, Tenn., native, picked up his team-best third save of the year, tossing the final three innings, allowing no runs, three hits, two walks, while striking out two.

The Wildcats got another great offensive game from freshman Chad Wright, along with sophomores Chris Bisson and Chris Wade. Wright was 2-for-2 in the game, drawing two walks and being a constant rally starter not only the entire game but the whole series. The Paducah, Ky., native improved his batting average to .351 on the season with 20 hits and 14 runs scored.

Bisson and Wade each had multi-hit nights for Kentucky. Bisson was 2-for-4 in the game with one run scored and a walk while Wade was also 2-for-4. Both are hitting .300 or better on the season with Wade right at the .300 mark and Bisson hitting .380.

Kentucky scored first for the third time in the series, when the Wildcats loaded the bases on two infield singles and a fielder’s choice. Bisson started the game with a bunt single to the second baseman, advancing to second on the bunt single by Wade, finally loading the bases when Wiley reached on a fielder’s choice. Wiley bunted the ball in front of home plate, fielded by the catcher who threw to third in hopes to get out Bisson, but to no avail as the speedy sophomore beat out the throw, loading the bases for Kapteyn. Kapteyn sent a sharp single through the left side of the infield, scoring Bisson and giving Kentucky a one run lead. The inning ended on the questionable triple play. 

Vanderbilt (14-8, 2-4 SEC) tied the game in the third inning when Meyer threw a wild pitch allowing Matt Marquis score from third. Marquis led off the inning after getting hit by a pitch, advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt by catcher Drew Fann. Meyer then struck out Harris for the second out of the inning. Vanderbilt’s second baseman Riley Reynolds was the next batter and after a wild pitch by Meyer advanced Marquis to third, Reynolds walked. A few pitches later, Meyer allowed Vanderbilt to tie the game by throwing his second wild pitch of the inning, during the at bat of Steven Liddle.

Kentucky took the lead back in the fourth inning when Wright started a two-out rally. After a strikeout and a lineout to start the inning, Wright drew a two out walk, then stole second base and finally gave Kentucky a one-run lead on a single up the middle by first baseman Gunner Glad.

The Commodores tied the game again in the sixth inning with a laser home run down the right field line by Liddle. Henry had been cruising since taking over for Meyer back in the fourth inning, but ran into trouble after Liddle’s second homer of the season. The next batter for Vanderbilt reached on an infield single to the left side on a great diving stop by Andy Burns to keep the ball in the infield. Henry then settled down and got the first two outs of the inning but got back into trouble when he loaded the bases with a single and a walk. The next batter then roped a two-strike pitch up the middle that was stopped by Bisson on a dive, but not in time to get an out before Casali came home to score. Kentucky got out of the inning when Bisson threw to the cut-off man, getting Esposito out as he tried to score.

Kentucky had a great chance to tie the game or take the lead in the seventh inning when Burns led off the inning with a bunt single, then Bisson walked and Wade moved the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Vanderbilt decided to intentionally walk Wiley to load the bases for a possible inning-ending double play and that is exactly what the Commodores got, off the bat of Kapteyn to keep their one run lead.

The Wildcats had another good chance in the eighth inning when Wright got on base with his second single of the game, later advancing to second base when Glad reached on an error. Pinch hitter Cory Farris then struck out, and after Wright and Glad each stole a base to put runners on second and third, Burns grounded out to short to end the inning.

Kentucky did get a single in the ninth inning by Wiley, but could not start a significant rally finally falling to the Commodores 4-2.