Cooper, Little Pitch UK to Series-Evening Win over No. 4 South Carolina
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- In just his third career conference start, Kentucky freshman Jordan Cooper outdueled South Carolina junior starting pitcher Sam Dyson and UK closer Matt Little tossed the final 2.1 innings for the save, as UK picked up a series-evening 2-1 win over the fourth-ranked Gamecocks, on Saturday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
With the Kentucky starting pitching rotation decimated by injury and illness the last four weekends, UK has turned to Cooper to fill a void in the pitching staff, with the freshman right-hander making his third career Southeastern Conference starting assignment against the SEC-leading Gamecocks. A native of Shelbyville, Tenn., Cooper (3-4) turned in the best outing of his young career, picking up the win with a career-high 6.2 innings pitched. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, allowed only four hits and walked two, striking out a career-high five in a dominating performance matched up against Dyson, one of the top pitchers in college baseball. Cooper tossed first-pitch strikes to 13 hitters in the game and allowed only a solo home run in the top of the fifth inning that gave USC a short-lived one-run lead.
Cooper put runners on first and second with one out and UK nursing a one-run lead in the top of the seventh and UK turned to Little to close out the contest. A junior right-hander, Little got UK out of the jam with a pop out in foul territory in the seventh inning. In the eighth, Little struck out All-American outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., but the speedster reached base on a wild pitch on the third strike. Little, a native of Virginia Beach, Va., then got three-hole hitter Christian Walker to ground into a double play and after a two-out single and a stolen base put the game-tying run on second base in the eighth, Little teamed up with UK freshman catcher Luke Maile to nab the runner trying to steal third base to get out of the inning. South Carolina led off the ninth inning with a single but Little lifted UK to the win with three consecutive outs for his seventh save of the season. With his seventh save of the year, Little is now tied for second in the UK single-season record books, one shy of UK record holder Paul Morse, who saved eight games in 1993. In a team-high 21 games this season, Little (2-2, 3.47 ERA) has saved seven games in 36.1 innings, allowing 30 hits and 14 walks, striking out 44.
The win gives UK its eighth win over a ranked opponent in 2010 and its fourth over a top-10 foe this season. The resilient Wildcats own a total of 10 wins over teams currently ranked in the four major polls and entered the game ranked No. 28 in the latest NCAA RPI projections on BoydsWorld.com, posting 10 wins over teams ranked in the top 27 in the RPI. In addition, UK has suffered six one-run losses this season to ranked foes, including four walk-off losses on the road, with UK owning a lead entering the final frame in all four walk-off losses. All told in 2010, UK will play a ranked opponent in 30 or 56 regular-season games, according to the latest weekly rankings.
Kentucky (25-21, 8-15 SEC) got one big hit in the game, coming from sophomore Braden Kapteyn, whose two-RBI double in the fifth inning gave UK the one-run lead it needed. Kapteyn ended the game 1-for-4 while senior Gunner Glad and junior Chris Bisson went 2-for-4. Glad extended his hitting streak to a team-high 10 games, reaching base safely in 26 consecutive games, while Bisson is now riding a nine-game hitting streak. Junior Lance Ray also posted a hit and two walks in the game and has now recorded a hit in 12 of his last 14 games.
The series will resume Sunday at 1 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, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM, in addition to complete coverage on UKathletics.com. UK will send sophomore right-hander Alex Meyer (4-2, 7.30 ERA) to the mound to face off with South Carolina senior right-hander Jay Brown (2-0, 4.72 ERA).
Dyson (4-4) was impressive for the Gamecocks, throwing a complete game, allowing only six hits and two runs, all earned, while walking four and striking out eight for his second complete game of the season. The right-hander pitched out of bases-loaded jams in both the first and second innings. He coaxed Kapteyn into an inning-ending double play in the first and then got fellow UK sophomore Chad Wright to fly out to center in the second frame. After Ray walked and stole second in the third inning, Dyson struck out both Kapteyn and senior Keenan Wiley to end the Wildcat threat.
Evan Marzilli scored the only RBI for the Gamecocks with his second home run of the season. The freshman blasted a solo homer over the right-centerfield wall in the fifth inning to give the Gamecocks their only lead of the game. Morales was the only USC player to record a multi-hit game, going 2-for-3 while Walker, senior Jeffery Jones and junior Scott Wingo also posted hits.
Kentucky answered in its half of the fifth when it strung three hits together capped off by a two-run double by Kapteyn. The UK designated hitter brought in Glad and Ray who had each reached base via singles.