Ninth-Inning Heroics Lift Baseball to 3-2 win at No. 28 Louisville
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With the game tied at 2-2 in the top of the ninth inning, junior Chad Wright painted a one-out double down the line and senior Taylor Black connected on a 1-0 offering from Louisville flame-throwing closer Tony Zych for the go-ahead RBI single, lifting the Kentucky Wildcats to a drama-filled 3-2 win over the 28th-ranked Cardinals, in front of a UL season-high 3,245 fans on a gorgeous Tuesday night at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Kentucky (17-17) entered the top of the ninth inning in front of the raucous crowd in Louisville with the game evened up at 2-2. After freshman Paul McConkey laced a line drive to rightfield for the first out, Wright came to the plate looking for his third hit of the game. Wright turned on a 1-2 offering from UL ace reliever Derek Self - who entered the game owning a 0.91 ERA and a .180 opponent batting average - sending a double screaming down the line. Louisville turned to Zych to face Black with Wright in scoring position as the go-ahead run. Zych's first pitch sailed high for a wild pitch, allowing Wright to scamper to third base with one out. Black connected on the next pitch, a fastball clocked at 95 on the scoreboard, sending the RBI single into right-centerfield to score Wright.
UK left freshman reliever Trevor Gott in the game to get the final three outs of the one-run game in the bottom of the ninth inning. Gott came on with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and a runner on first base, getting a strikeout for the final out of the eighth before UK took the lead in the ninth inning. A native of Lexington, Ky., and the Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year in 2010 out of Tates Creek, Gott struck out Ty Young swinging for the first out of the bottom of the ninth inning. That brought senior catcher J.J. Ethel to the plate and Ethel sent a line drive into the gap in right-centerfield. UK's freshman rightfielder J.T. Riddle read the ball off the bat, took a great route to the ball and hustled into the gap to cut it off, sending a strong throw to second base to hold Ethel, the game-tying run, to a single. UL freshman shortstop Alex Chittenden then worked the count to 3-0, before Gott threw two strikes to bring the count to 3-2. UL elected to send pinch runner Adam Engel from first base on the full-count pitch and Gott got a swinging strikeout for the second out, with Williams making a strong, accurate throw to UK second baseman Matt Reida - inserted into the game in the bottom of the ninth - who placed a perfect tag to end the game on the double play.
UK got stellar pitching throughout the game, including from sophomore right-handed starter Jordan Cooper, making his third career starting assignment against Louisville, going 6.2 innings, allowing five hits and two runs - one earned - walking three and striking out two. In the three starts in his career against Louisville, Cooper has tossed 13.1 innings, allowing only one earned run.
"Those are the kind of starts at the beginning of the year that I thought we were going to get from Jordan," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "I am not surprised. I am really happy to get it and that is the second one in a row now. In baseball you are going to go through a stretch where it is a rough go and he did there and we put him in the midweek. Now he is doing a good job for us and I kind of expect that this is what we are going to get from him from now on out and that is what we should get from him."
Senior lefty Mike Kaczmarek relieved Cooper in the bottom of the seventh inning with the go-ahead run in scoring position, getting two outs to strand the runner. In 14 relief appearances, Kaczmarek has inherited a team-high 23 runners, allowing only two to score. Kaczmarek, who tossed four shutout innings in a win over UL last year, went 1.1 innings, allowing one hit and striking out one. Gott relieved Kaczmarek with two outs and the go-ahead run on first base in the bottom of the eighth inning and got a swinging strikeout to end the eighth.
The Wildcats collected 11 hits in the game, led by three-hit outings from Black and Wright, who spearheaded UK's late-game heroics. Thomas McCarthy added two hits, including his team-best 12th double of the year. McConkey, Riddle and Williams totaled hits, with Williams launching a double in the fourth inning.
The UK game with Louisville marked the third time in the last four games that the rivalry tilt was decided by one run. With the exception of UK's decisive 5-0 win over UL in 2010 in Lexington, the two teams have squared off in drama-filled rivalry games, with UK falling in Louisville in 2010, 10-9 on a walk-off loss and UK posting an 8-7 win over UL in 2009 in Louisville.
Overall, Kentucky has dominated the series with Louisville, winning 25 of the last 35 games in the series and owning a 65-33-1 overall mark all time. UK leads the series 23-16-1 in games played in Louisville and has posted a 10-6 mark in Louisville in the last 16 games.
UL starter Jeff Thompson (1-0) went 3.2 innings, allowing seven hits and the two unearned runs in the top of the first, walking two and striking out three in his third career start. He was relieved by Travis Tingle, who tossed 2.2 shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out two. UL also used Cody Ege and Self in relief, with Self suffering his first loss of the year.
UK returns to action this weekend, traveling to face Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., for a three-game set. UK will open the series on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The series will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the games live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
The Wildcats got on the board in the top of the first, plating two runs on two hits. Wright led off the inning working an eight-pitch at bat and chopping a ball to first base that was misplayed on the feed to the pitcher for an error. Black followed and singled through the right side and Braden Kapteyn got hit by a two-strike pitch to load the bases. Riddle then followed and hit a hard ball up the middle, glancing off the glove of the pitcher for an infield RBI single. McCarthy then plated another run, hitting into a double play that allowed Black to score.
Louisville got on the board courtesy of an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth inning. With one out, Kyle Grieshaber chopped a single off the plate, bouncing over the head of McCarthy at third base and trickling down the line for a double, with Grieshaber called safe at second base on a close play. UK attempted a pickoff of Grieshaber at second base, with the throw sailing into centerfield and allowing Grieshaber to move to third on the error. Stewart Ijames then hit a grounder up the middle, with McConkey making a diving stop, with his one-hopped throw from his knees too late to end the inning, with Grieshaber scoring from third.
The Cardinals rallied in the bottom of the seventh inning to even up the game, as Cade Stallings led off the inning. With two strikes, Stallings stuck his bat out with a half swing, lofting a ball into rightfield for a single. Ethel followed and singled into the gap in right-centerfield, allowing pinch runner Ty Young to move to third. Chittenden then grounded out in the infield, allowing Young to score to even up the game at 2-2.
GAME NOTES: Second baseman Paul McConkey made his first start since March 22 vs. Cincinnati ... After reaching on an error in the first inning, Chad Wright has reached base safely in 31 of UK's 34 games this year and in 11 consecutive games ... With a first-inning single, Taylor Black extended his team-high hitting streak to six games ... With a single through the infield in the third, Thomas McCarthy has now reached base safely in 31 of 33 starts this year and in 31 of 34 games this year ... Michael Williams' double in the fourth inning was his seventh two-bagger of the year ... McConkey snapped an 0-for-11 stretch with a single to leftfield with a runner in scoring position in the fourth inning ... McCarthy hit his team-leading 12th double of the year with two outs in the fifth inning ... Jordan Cooper allowed only one earned run in 6.1 innings of work, marking his third quality start of the year ... Wright's RBI double in the ninth inning was his ninth double of the year ... Black's game-winning RBI single was his ninth two-strike hit of the year ... In 14 relief appearances, senior Mike Kaczmarek has inherited a team-high 23 runners, allowing only two to score ... UK turned two double plays, including a strikeout, throw-out double play to end the game in the bottom of the ninth.