Five-Run Sixth Leads No. 4 South Carolina to Series-Opening Win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With Kentucky owning a three-run lead after five innings, No. 4 South Carolina struck for five runs in the top of the sixth inning and held off a late-inning rally from UK, handing the Wildcats an 13-9 series-opening loss, on a gorgeous Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

The series will resume Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, voicing the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM. The game will also be televised live on BBSN, with Dick Gabriel (play-by-play), Ryan Lemond (sideline) and MLB Gold Glove infielder Doug Flynn (color) calling the action. Fans can see the game live on Fox Sports South (Insight-Lexington channel 52) and CWKYT-TV (Insight-Lexington channel 5).

Freshman Taylor Rogers (4-7) received his first SEC Friday start of his young career, going 5.1 innings giving up eight runs, three earned, on eight hits while walking none and striking out two, picking up the loss. A native of Littleton, Colo., took a three-run lead into the top of the sixth inning but was not able to hold it, giving up four runs in the inning. Junior Nick Kennedy took over for UK, going two innings with two runs scored on four hits and one strikeout. Junior Mike Kaczmarek and sophomore Joe Devine finished the game for Kentucky, with Kaczmarek going one inning, allowing two runs on two hits while Devine went 0.2 scoreless inning to get UK out of a jam in the top of the ninth.

Offensively, Kentucky was led by junior Lance Ray ending the game 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Senior Marcus Nidiffer also plated two RBI, scorching his seventh homer of the season while junior Taylor Black blasted his eighth homer of the season. Nidiffer, Black, junior Chris Bisson and seniors Gunner Glad and Keenan Wiley each posted multi-hit games with Wiley and Bisson gathering a RBI. Sophomore Braden Kapteyn and Andy Burns also carded an RBI although not recording a hit in the game while Glad has now reached base in a team-high 25 consecutive games.

South Carolina (36-9, 17-5 Southeastern Conference) used four pitchers in the game, starting senior Blake Cooper (9-0) who went 5.2 innings allowing nine hits and a season-high seven runs, three earned, while walking three and striking out three for the win. Sophomore Michael Roth threw a scoreless inning in relief allowing only one hit while freshman Ethan Carter went one inning, giving up two runs, all earned, on three hits and one strikeout. Freshman Matt Price closed out the game for USC, pitching the final inning with only one hit and striking out three. Price picked up his team-best fifth save of the season, tossing 34 pitches.

The Gamecocks, who entered the game ranked as high as No. 4 nationally and leading the conference standings, were lead by a four-RBI, three double night by freshman Christian Walker, ending the game 4-ofr-6 with three runs scored and tied a school record with three doubles. USC also used multi-RBI nights from sophomore All-America Jackie Bradley Jr. and junior Adrian Morales with Bradley Jr. going 3-for-4 with three runs scored.

Kentucky (24-21, 7-15 SEC) started the scoring with two runs on two hits in the bottom of the first inning. The inning started with a groundout back to the mound by Bisson but after Chad Wright reached on an error by the shortstop and Glad singled to leftfield, Ray sent a grounder back through the box, scoring Wright. Glad then scored when Kapteyn reached on a fielder’s choice, giving Kentucky a 2-0 lead.  

South Carolina started a rally behind some infield hits and a UK error in the top of the second inning. Adam Matthews kick started the rally with a bunt single to first base to lead off the inning, followed by an infield single by Kyle Enders. Bobby Haney then grounded out to short to advance the runners into scoring position for Scott Wingo. Wingo then grounded out to first to score Matthews and advance Haney to third. Haney later scored when Whit Merrifield reached on an error by Bisson, tying the game at two.

UK responded with a run in the bottom of the second inning, getting a solo homer from Nidiffer. After Wiley struck out to start the inning, Nidiffer sent a laser shot against the wind and over the leftfield wall for his seventh homer of the season.

USC would respond again, gathering their first lead of the game after Kentucky got two errors by its middle infielders. The inning started with Christian Walker reached on a fielding error by Bisson, advancing to third when Parker Bangs grounded a ball to Black. Black would throw wildly to second, allowing Walker to go to third and Bangs to reach first safely.  Adrian Morales then tied the game on sacrifice fly to leftfield. After Matthews doubled to right-centerfield to put runners second and third, Enders grounded out to short to score Bangs and give USC the 4-3 lead.

The back-and-forth battle continued in the bottom of the third inning when Kentucky scored a run to tie the game at 4-4. After Glad and Ray walked to start the inning, Kapteyn sacrificed both runners over leaving the door open for Burns to lineout to centerfield to score the Glad from third.

The Wildcats took the lead in the fourth inning when Bisson gathered an RBI single to centerfield to score Black. Nidiffer leadoff the inning with a strike before Black reached on a single to right-centerfield, stealing second to get into scoring for Bisson. The preseason All-American then sent a rope to centerfield easily scoring Black and giving UK a 5-4 lead.

Kentucky took its biggest lead of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring two runs on three hits and two USC errors. The inning started when Ray singled to leftfield, advancing to second when the ball was misplayed by the leftfielder. After Kapteyn popped out trying to bunt and Burns struck out swinging, Wiley singled up the middle to score Ray. With Nidiffer batting, Wiley would steal second, advancing to third when the catchers throw went into centerfield. Nidiffer would then gather an infield single to third base allowing Wiley to score and give Kentucky a 7-4 lead.

USC responded again in the top of the sixth inning, getting five runs to take a lead they would not relinquish. Rogers started the inning by getting Enders to groundout out to third. Haney then singled to leftfield and after Wingo reached on an error and Merrifield singled to third base to load the bases, Bradley doubled down the rightfield line to score two and cut the UK lead to one. UK then turned to the pen to bring in Kennedy to face Christian Walker with Walker hitting a high fly to rightfield that Ray could not find in the wind, gathering a double and scoring Merrifield. Kentucky recorded the second out when Jeffery Jones grounded out to second to score Bradley and the rally would end when Morales doubled to leftfield, scoring Walker and giving USC a 9-7 lead.

USC scored two runs in the top of the eighth inning behind an RBI double by Walker and a sacrifice fly by Evan Marzilli. But Kentucky would respond with two runs of its own in the eighth. Black started the scoring with his eighth homer of the season. UK then received back-to-back single by Bisson and Wright to bring up the tying run in Glad, who grounded in a double play. Ray plated the second run in the inning on a single to leftfield that scored Bisson and cut the USC lead to 11-9.

South Carolina plated two insurance runs in the top of the ninth behind a two-RBI double by Walker, his third double of the night – tying a school record.