No. 11 UK Eliminates Host Purdue, Advances to Regional Final
June 3, 2012
GARY, Ind. -- With the No. 11 Kentucky pitching staff in need of a strong start, sophomore southpaw Corey Littrell delivered 7.1 innings in a winning effort, leading the Wildcats to a 6-3 win over No. 14 Purdue, eliminating the host Boilermakers and advancing to the NCAA Gary Regional Final, on Saturday afternoon at U.S. Steel Yard.
Kentucky (45-17) has now shattered the school record with its 45th win, eclipsing the 44 wins in 2006 and 2008. The Wildcats have now equaled their best NCAA Tournament finish in program history, also done in 1988, 2006 and 2008. UK will now need to beat Kent State at 8 p.m. ET at U.S. Steel Yard to force the if-necessary game on Monday at 1 p.m. ET with the Flashes. The two teams have already squared off in a classic 21-inning marathon on Friday night, a 7-6 Kent State win that forced the Wildcats to fight back into the championship round from the loser's bracket.
Littrell (9-2) worked 7.1 innings for a pitching-depleted UK team after playing the 21-inning game on Friday. He allowed seven hits and three runs, walking two and striking out seven. He was replaced by senior Alex Phillips in the eighth, who got the final two outs of the inning and finished off the game for his eighth save of the year, the second-most saves in UK single-season history, just behind the record nine saves from sophomore Trevor Gott.
The elimination of Purdue is the second consecutive Big Ten host site that the Wildcats have eliminated in the NCAA Tournament. UK eliminated the host Michigan Wolverines in 2008 in the first ever NCAA Ann Arbor Regional.
The Wildcats charted an 11-hit attack in the game, including hanging a four run inning in the fourth. UK was led by a three-hit game from Thomas McCarthy and a two-hit game from Luke Maile and Zac Zellers. UK also got hits from Matt Reida, Cameron Flynn, J.T. Riddle and Austin Cousino. Michael Williams added a sacrifice fly and a pair of sacrifice bunts.
Purdue (45-15) starter Robert Ramer (6-1) worked 3.1 innings, allowing four hits and four runs - two earned - striking out two. Blake Mascarello replaced him in the fourth working 3.2 innings, allowing six hits and one run, walking one and striking out one. Nick Wittgren worked two innings, allowing one hit and one run.
Ramer took the hill for the Boilermakers to start the game and got off to a quick start, striking out the first two outs and forcing a fly out to center to retire the Wildcats in order. Purdue took an early lead in the bottom of the first, sparked by two-out hits. Eric Charles reached on balls with one out and scored on a two-out triple just out of the reach of Cousino diving into right center. Barrett Serrato followed Kevin Plawecki's triple with a double into the left center gap, scoring Plawecki and increasing the Boilermaker lead to 2-0 after one.
Ramer retired the first two UK hitters of the second before Zellers found his way on with the Wildcats' first hit of the afternoon, a single through the left side. Zellers would be stranded as Ramer forced an infield fly out to end the top half.
Littrell retired the first two batters in order in the bottom of the second before handing a free pass to Talbott. Littrell's second walk of the day wouldn't do any damage as Tyler Spillner lined out to Reida at short to end the inning.
Kentucky sat down in order in the top of the third, but Littrell matched Ramer in the bottom half, sitting down the Boilermakers in order.
The Wildcats seized the lead with a four-run inning in the top half of the fourth. McCarthy led off the Wildcats, reaching second on an error by the center fielder as he had trouble finding the ball in the sun. Maile singled through the left side and Williams' sac bunt put runners on second and third with one out. Flynn stepped up for Kentucky, knocking a two-RBI single into right field, bringing McCarthy and Williams home to tie the game at two. Zellers knocked a double to the warning track in left field, bringing Flynn around from first to give Kentucky their first lead of the day and force Purdue to make a call to the bullpen. Mascarello took over and retired the first batter of the inning before plunking McConkey to give Kentucky runners on first and third with two outs. Reida delivered with an infield single up the middle that brought home Zellers to increase Kentucky's lead to 4-2 through three and a half.
Littrell found a groove in the bottom of the fourth, retiring the side for a second consecutive inning, including striking out two.
McCarthy and Maile led off in the bottom of the fourth with consecutive singles before moving to second and third with one out on a sacrifice bunt from Michael Williams, his second of the day. Following a groundout, Zellers reached first to load the bases but Kentucky wasn't able to convert on the opportunity as Mascarello forced a groundout to third to end the inning and leave three stranded.
Miller singled into right field to begin the Boilermakers' fifth inning but wouldn't let the leadoff single do any damage. Littrell struck out two and forced a groundout to Riddle at second to end the fifth with Kentucky still holding onto a 4-2 lead.
Following a quick two outs to start the inning, Cousino sparked Kentucky with a perfect bunt pushed passed the Purdue pitcher and first baseman for a base hit. Cousino stole second before McCarthy knocked his second single up the middle to bring Cousino home and add a run for Kentucky. The Wildcats boasted a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Littrell recorded a quick bottom half of the sixth, sitting the Boilermakers down in order. The Wildcats didn't make much of the top of the seventh, going down in order.
Sean McHugh singled through the middle with one out in the bottom of the seventh but Littrell erased the single, forcing a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Riddle laid down a nice bunt to the right side for a base hit, bringing about a pitching change for Purdue as Wittgren took the mound. McConkey sacrificed Riddle over to second to give Kentucky a runner in scoring position with one out but Wittgren left Riddle stranded, forcing a line out into a left field and a ground out to first.
Purdue cut into Kentucky's three run lead in the bottom of the eighth with three base hits. Spillner led off with a single up the middle. Cameron Perkins knocked a one-out single into left field to give Purdue runners on first and third with one out. A single into left field from Plawecki cut into the Wildcats' lead, scoring Spillner to bring the Boilermakers within two runs of Kentucky. UK head coach Gary Henderson decided it was time to go to the bullpen, bringing Phillips to the mound. Phillips shut the Boilermakers down, leaving two runners stranded and preserving the Kentucky lead at 5-3.
Kentucky added one insurance run for Phillips in the top of the ninth as McCarthy scored for the second time of the day. McCarthy led off Kentucky with his third single of the day before advancing to second on a bobble in right field. Maile stepped up and lined out to right, allowing McCarthy to tag and reach third with one out in the top of the ninth. Williams smoked a liner into center, allowing McCarthy to score on the tag and give the Wildcats one additional insurance run.
Phillips came back on in the final inning and closed the door, clinching the 6-3 win for the Wildcats, forcing two strikeouts and an infield pop out to end the game.
GAME NOTES: After sitting out for the first time of the year on Saturday, junior Luke Maile returned to the starting lineup ... Zac Zellers recorded his 12th double of the year ... Paul McConkey was hit by his fifth pitch of the year ... Matt Reida recorded his 11th two-out RBI ... Austin Cousino stole his 15th base of the year ... Thomas McCarthy scored Cousino with his 14th two-out RBI of the year ... Corey Littrell worked his 10th quality start of the year ... Michael Williams hung his first sacrifice fly of the year ... Kentucky broke a school a single-season school record, recording its 45th win of the year ... The Wildcats are 41-0 when leading after eight innings and 32-1 when leading after four innings ... UK now owns a 14-0 record when wearing its black tops and white pants uniform combination ... UK now has a school-record 22 saves ... Alex Phillips saved his eight game of the year, the second-best in UK single-season history, behind sophomore Trevor Gott ... UK has now eliminated two consecutive Big Ten host sites in its last two NCAA Tournaments ... UK is now 12-13 in NCAA Tournament play ... UK's NCAA Regional Championship game finish ties the best finish in program history, also done in 1988, 2006 and 2008.