Wright Robs Game-Tying Grand Slam in Ninth, as UK Tops No. 11 Florida
May 15, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With Kentucky holding an 8-4 lead with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Florida freshman Preston Tucker appeared to hit a game-tying grand slam, but UK freshman Chad Wright climbed the wall in left field to rob Tucker of the homer, helping the Wildcats escape with an 8-7 series-evening win, in front of 3,121 fans Friday night at McKethan Stadium.
Kentucky (28-25, 12-17 Southeastern Conference) entered the bottom of the ninth inning holding an 8-3 lead, before UK senior starter Chris Rusin – attempting to seal his league-leading fifth complete game of the year – loaded the bases with no outs. UK turned to freshman closer Braden Kapteyn with the bases juiced and he induced Florida right-fielder Jonathan Pigott to pop up to right field. However, confusion between the UK infield and outfield allowed a routine pop up to drop in between four defenders, with one UF run scoring. With Tucker at the dish, UK holding a four-run lead and the bases loaded, the freshman belted a line drive down the left-field line, with Wright tracking it toward the wall off the bat. Wright climbed the wall in left and reached over his shoulder to make a spectacular play. UK sophomore Logan Darnell came on in relief of Kapteyn and got two quick outs to seal the game for the Wildcats, notching his third save of the year.
UK entered the contest Friday one-and-a-half games behind eighth-place Vanderbilt, needing two UK wins and two Vanderbilt losses to secure a spot in the SEC Tournament, held May 20-24 in Hoover, Ala. The top eight teams in the conference, based on winning percentage, qualify for the league tournament, held at Regions Park. In a see-saw battle in Nashville between rivals Tennessee and Vanderbilt Friday night, Tennessee edged the Commodores 7-6 in 10 innings, to secure the series and give UK new life. The Wildcats enter the final game of the regular season behind Vanderbilt by half a game. UK must win Saturday and Vanderbilt must lose in order for the Wildcats to secure a spot in the tournament.
Rusin (7-4), making his final regular-season start of his career, was solid through seven innings. Rusin allowed a run each in both the first and second, but settled down and held the Gators without a run until the eighth inning. Rusin left the game with the bases loaded and an 8-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, with all three inherited runners scoring. The Canton, Mich., native finished the game going eight innings, allowing eight hits and six runs, striking out four. Rusin’s four strikeouts now give him 274 career punch-outs, moving past Brian Reed (1991-94) for second all-time in UK career annals. Now with 301.1 career innings pitched, Rusin checks in third in UK history. Rusin has now struck out 108 on the year, good for seventh-most in UK season history.
Florida (37-18, 18-11 SEC) starter Anthony DeScalfani (5-3), a freshman right-hander went 2.2 innings, allowing six hits and seven runs, allowing two walks while striking out one. Tony Davis relieved DeScalfani, and despite allowing a homer in the third, settled down to hurl a career-high 3.2 innings, allowing two hits and one run, walking one and striking out four. Justin Poovey came on and pitched three shutout innings.
Offensively for UK, freshman outfielder Cory Farris totaled three hits and two RBI, including his second homer of the year. UK also got two RBI from Kapteyn, Keenan Wiley and Marcus Nidiffer. Nidiffer hit his ninth homer of the year, scoring a game-high two runs. UK’s win came courtesy of an eight-run third inning, highlighted by homers from Farris and Nidiffer.
The series and regular season will wrap up Saturday, with a 4 p.m. ET first pitch at McKethan Stadium. The game was originally scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, but due to Florida hosting the NCAA Softball Regional Tournament at 1 p.m., the game was pushed back. 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. UK will send freshman right-hander Alex Meyer to the mound to face UF freshman lefty Nick Maronde, a native of Lexington, Ky., and 2008 graduate of Lexington Catholic.
Florida took an early lead with a run on no hits in the bottom of the first inning. After working the count full to lead-off man Avery Barnes, Rusin plunked him with a pitch. After Rusin’s first balk of the year moved Adams to second, Jonathan Pigott advanced him with a sacrifice bunt. Freshman first sacker Preston Tucker set the Florida freshman RBI record with his 68th RBI of the season, a groundout to the second baseman.
The Gators continued to add to its lead in the second inning, as Brandon McArthur led off the inning with a homer over the left field fence, a no-doubt jack that sailed well over the bleachers in left field, bouncing off the top of the television truck parked in the parking lot of the O’Connell Center. It was McArthur’s second homer of the year.
Kentucky took the lead in the top of the third, plating eight runs on seven hits. Nidiffer got hit on the arm by a two-strike pitch to lead off. Farris followed and bombed the first pitch he saw in the game over the right-field fence, bouncing off the scoreboard behind the wall. The homer was Farris’ second of the year and his second in the last three games. Farris, considered one of the top young hitters on the team, went a span of 19 games and 70 at bats without an extra-base hit to open his career, before exploding for his first career homer – a grand slam – Tuesday in the home finale, adding five RBI and three hits. After the homer, freshman Wright drew a walk and freshman Andy Burns lined a single down the left field line.
Chris Bisson attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position, but his bunt didn’t travel far enough from the catcher, as UF was able to get Wright at third. Gunner Glad followed and struck out on a 1-2 breaking ball, bringing Chris Wade to the plate. Wade extended his hitting streak to a team-high 12 games with a single to third, with McArthur making a diving play to save a run and keep the bases loaded. Keenan Wiley scored two with an RBI single through the right side, allowing Burns and Bisson to score. With two strikes on Kapteyn, the designated hitter ripped his club-high 11th double of the year to deep center field, emptying the bases and allowing Wade and Wiley to score. With Kapteyn on second, Nidiffer connected on a 1-2 pitch from reliever Tony Davis, belting it into the grandstand in left field for his ninth homer of the year and his second in the series.
Florida got a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, as Rusin issued his first walk of the game with one out. After Rusin got Matt den Dekker to ground into a fielders’ choice, den Dekker advanced to second on Rusin’s second balk of the game. McArthur scored den Dekker with an RBI single through the left side.
Rusin came on for the ninth inning with a manageable pitch count and looking for his league-leading fifth complete game of the year. Rusin allowed a lead-off infield single to Daniel Pigott and then hit Mike Mooney. Rusin issued his second walk of the game, loading the bases and ending the night for the lefty. UK called on Kapteyn who immediately got Jonathan Pigott to pop up to right field, but the UK defense did not communicate and the ball dropped in for an RBI single. Tucker, one of the front runners for SEC Freshman of the Year and school record holder for RBI in a season by a freshman, came to the plate and belted the deep fly to the wall in left field, with Wright providing the heroics that turned into a sacrifice fly. The next hitter, Josh Adams, put a scare into the UK defense with a double off the wall in right field – narrowly missing the walk-off grand slam – emptying the loaded bases and making it 8-7. UK turned to Darnell to face den Dekker, who struck out the left-handed hitter and brining pinch hitter Hampton Tignor. After a wild pitch moved Adams to third, Darnell induced a high-hoping grounder to Bisson, who had to make a marvelous play to get Tignor at first, stranding the runner and giving UK the win.