Cat Scratches: Top 20 Memorable Games Since 2006 (No. 11-15)
Over the last five seasons, I have been fortunate enough to work directly with the Kentucky baseball program. During that time, the program has achieved unprecedented success in the best conference in college baseball. Two NCAA Tournament appearances and an SEC Championship have highlighted the last few years, but along the way there have been a slew of memorable, exciting games. Since 2007, I have had the opportunity to see every inning of UK's last 228 baseball games, owning a front-row seat for some thrilling contests.
With so many exciting games and moments in program history the last few years, it is perfect for a top 20 listing of the most memorable games since that history 2006 campaign.
Over the next few days, Cat Scratches will unveil the top 20 listing in increments of five at a time until No. 1 is revealed. Each post will include a link to the postgame story from the contest and a box score. Weigh in on the rankings in the comments section, let us know if you agree or disagree and share your special memories of Kentucky baseball.
1 5. Logan Darnell tosses complete-game shutout at San Diego (2010)
Postgame Recap | Box Score (HTML)
Kentucky opened up the 2010 season in stellar fashion, sweeping through the Coastal Carolina preseason tournament and dominating through its first seven games, before heading across the country to play three games in San Diego. In the first game of the weekend, UK got a heavy-handed loss from San Diego State and All-American ace Addison Reed, handing UK its first loss of the year, a 12-4 setback.
Before UK returned to the diamond for the second game of the weekend, at traditional power San Diego, head coach Gary Henderson addressed several things that bothered him in the SDSU game and got the team in the right mindset entering the game with USD.
Turns out, all he needed to do was run junior lefty Logan Darnell out to the mound for the game with the Toreros. Darnell dominated, needing just 90 pitches - 70 strikes - to post a complete-game shutout in the third start of his career. Darnell faced only five hitters over the minimum and threw first-pitch strikes to 22-of-32 hitters faced.
14. UK wins Super Bulldog Weekend opener in 11 innings at Mississippi State (2009)
Postgame Recap | Box Score (HTML) | Photo Gallery
Every year, Mississippi State picks a weekend baseball series, built around the football spring game, to hold its Super Bulldog Weekend, which traditionally translates to a significant home-field advantage for the Bulldogs. The 2009 series with UK and MSU was electric for a number of reasons, including UK head coach Gary Henderson facing MSU head man and former UK head coach John Cohen. During Cohen's five years at UK, Henderson worked as his associate head coach, helping build UK into national relevance.
The first game of the series was just as it was hyped to be, a large, vocal crowd helped create a must-see atmosphere in Starkville, as 6,926 fans packed the grandstand and the unique outfield area.
In a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth, Chris Bisson delivered a clutch RBI single to score the go-ahead run. Down to its last strike in the bottom of the ninth inning, MSU slugger Connor Powers drove an RBI single down the left-field line, scoring the game-tying run and sending the crowd into an excitable frenzy. UK had freshman closer Braden Kapteyn on the mound, since the eighth inning, and he responded with a shutout bottom of the 10th inning to set up UK heroics in the top of the 11th. Freshman Chad Wright singled with one out on a scalded infield hit to shortstop and after Andy Burns singled through the left side to put Wright in scoring position, Bisson stroked a two-RBI triple into the right-centerfield gap. Kapteyn got the final three outs of the game in the bottom of the 11th, working around a two-out RBI single from MSU centerfielder and current Lexington Legends outfielder Grant Hogue.
13. Shelby, Strieby lead UK to dramatic wins over South Carolina (2006)
Game 1 Postgame Recap | Game 2 Postgame Recap | Game 3 Postgame Recap
Game 1 Box Score | Game 2 Box Score | Game 3 Box Score
In every championship season, fans can look back at one series that changed the tide for the year. During the UK 2006 SEC Championship season, it is clear that that turning point was a three-game sweep of No. 7 South Carolina at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky entered the weekend series with South Carolina 8-7 in SEC play and coming off a series defeat at the hands of Arkansas in an always-electric atmosphere in Fayetteville, Ark. At this point in the year, UK was ranked No. 21 and fighting for respect nationally after a 29-win season in 2005.
Enter the Gamecocks, owning a 30-9 record and an 11-5 mark in SEC play entering the Friday-night game. UK built a 9-2 lead entering the top of the eighth inning, seemingly having the game in hand. Then it all came unraveled, as South Carolina improbably plated seven runs in the top of the eighth inning, evening up the game. UK couldn't mount any offense in the bottom of the ninth or the 10th and freshman lefty Chris Rusin emerged as a future star with 3.1 perfect innings in relief for the Wildcats, handcuffing the Gamecocks in the top of the ninth and 10th frames. Rusin was the fifth UK pitcher in the seven-run eighth inning for USC, getting UK out of the crippling jam. South Carolina had flame-throwing right-hander Wynn Pelzer on the mound, riding a scoreless streak of 19 consecutive innings entering a lead-off at bat against UK junior second baseman John Shelby. Shelby ended that streak with a no-doubt, first-pitch blast to dead centerfield, giving UK a walk-off winner in a game that lasted nearly four hours and ended well after 11 p.m. ET.
In the second game of the series, the two teams traded blows in a back-and-forth game and UK was down 12-6 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, as the contest was tied or the lead changed hands six times up to that point. UK mounted an improbable comeback with a six-run rally in the bottom of the seventh. In arguably the best pitching performance of his career, Troy Ragle sat down South Carolina in the top of the eighth. UK loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eighth for Ryan Strieby, who took a 2-1 pitch from reliever Andrew Cruse deep over the fence to give UK the go-ahead grand slam and lift UK to the series win.
In the finale, UK was down 6-0 before scoring three in the fourth, five in the fifth and four in the sixth to take a 12-7 lead it would not relinquish, as Andrew Albers locked down the save in the ninth, his first save of the year. I remember the feeling in that pressbox after the win, a feeling that UK was turning the corner and that this could be the magical year the program needed. There was just no-quit in the team, as they began to build a reputation as a scrappy, competitive club. The series was monumental for other reasons as well, as UK drew 6,510 fans over the weekend series, setting a record for attendance in a three-game series, including 2,059 fans for the Strieby-led comeback win on Saturday.
12. Back-and-forth slugfest at Arkansas (2010)
Postgame Recap | Box Score (HTML) | Photo Gallery
There are several games that I remember over the last five years that were extremely competitive, intense and exciting, despite UK coming out on the losing end. The 2010 series-finale rubber match at No. 10 Arkansas was an extra-exciting, drama-filled game in front of 7,614 of the most hostile fans I can remember at a collegiate sporting event. It was electric and improbable, one of the most exciting sporting events I have ever attended.
After UK, who entered the series with a 2-5 SEC record, won game one of the series against the Razorbacks and fell in game two 10-1 behind Arkansas ace Drew Smyly, the rubber match was set for Sunday, with UK standout Alex Meyer and Arkansas flame-throwing talent Brett Eibner facing off in a non-typical Sunday SEC pitching duel.
That duel did not materialize as UK, fired up from a spirited postgame speech from UK head coach Gary Henderson after the Saturday game, plated five runs in the top of the second off Eibner to put UK in great position for a potential season-changing series win. Arkansas plated eight runs in the bottom of the second and scored two runs in the third and four runs in the fourth off Meyer, UK freshman Sam Kidd and sophomore Sean Bouthilette. UK was down 13-5 and looked in bad shape, until it got a one-out hit from Chris Bisson and a two-run homer from senior Gunner Glad in the top of the fifth. The two-homer party continued as Taylor Black made it a 13-9 game with a two-run homer in the top of the sixth. The Razorbacks turned to ace freshman closer D.J. Baxendale in the eighth, a star locally in Arkansas in high school and the owner of a 2.53 ERA and six saves in his first 13 career relief outings. UK jumped all over Baxendale, as UK plated five runs to take a 14-13 lead. Senior Keenan Wiley then reached down and out of the zone to pop up a two-run homer just over the left-field fence and tucked in the fair pole down the line, giving UK an energy-fueled 16-13 lead.
With a three-run lead UK turned to closer Matt Little who had proved to be one of the top closer in college baseball in the early-season portion of the campaign. Little was victimized by an Arkansas last-ditch rally, with two Razorbacks reaching base with two outs and the No. 9 spot in the order due up. Arkansas turned to All-America slugging first baseman Andy Wilkins, who was announced pregame as tearing his hamstring on Saturday night and being out for an estimated two weeks, for a pinch-hit at bat. Little threw three straight balls to Wilkins and fired in two strikes to even the count on the handicapped 6-foot-2 slugger, before walking him to load the bases for leadoff hitter Collin Kuhn. Kuhn worked the count to 2-2 and did the same thing Wiley had done in the previous inning, stuck his bat out of the zone and lifted a ball down the left-field line, tucked in the fair pole, for the walk-off grand slam.
The loss was as painful as it could be, as UK was just one strike away from winning its first series in Fayetteville in 17 years and turning the tide of UK's season. After UK fought through the hostile crowd perched on top of the visiting dugout to the somber bus, it was clear that this kind of loss could cripple the season. But, head coach Gary Henderson didn't let it, as UK rode the negative momentum into a huge shutout win over No. 7 Louisville in the midweek and posted a series win over No. 19 Alabama, a team that advanced to the SEC Tournament Championship game and was a win shy of advancing to Omaha.
11. Patchwork pitching staff nearly bests Arizona's three first-round relievers (2008)
Postgame Recap | Box Score (HTML)
After UK won a pair of games to force a decisive tilt with Arizona in 2008's NCAA Ann Arbor Regional, the Wildcats were simply out of pitching, especially after posting a win over host-Michigan earlier in the day. UK had used its starters up entering the game with Arizona, especially with ace Chris Rusin out injured after attempting to pitch in the NCAA Tournament opener and James Paxton nursing a back injury.
The Wildcats knew it would have a monumental task to keep the game close against Arizona, who had blown through the winners bracket and used minimal pitching to set up the game with UK. I can remember in the pregame, as both teams were warming up on the field, UK senior catcher Tyler Howe running to the bullpen mound and remarking to a teammate that he better see if he can still pitch, so he could take the mound against Zona if called upon during the game.
UK turned to senior sidearmer Brock Baber for his first career start in his 98th career appearance. Baber, who had worked earlier in the day against Michigan in the first game of the twinbill, was able to go two innings, allowing a pair of runs off a two-run homer. UK's Gary Henderson, then the pitching coach, put together a masterful plan during that game, piecing together a patchwork pitching staff that was able to keep UK in the game and put Kentucky in position to win the game.
Senior Tommy Warner went one shutout inning, senior Aaron Lovett tossed a shutout frame, freshman Logan Darnell had the best outing of his young career with two shutout innings and freshman Mike Kaczmarek and the starting pitcher from yesterday's win, senior Greg Dombrowski, combined to pitch one inning. Howe was then used for a shutout eighth inning and Andrew Albers, who had pitched earlier in the tournament as well, pitched the ninth.
It was not enough however, as Arizona starter Eric Berger was dynamic into the eighth inning, setting the stage for three Arizona's first-round relievers to close out the game. Current MLB relievers Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth were used simply for one out in the eighth inning and flame-throwing closer Jason Stoffell tossed a perfect ninth for the Arizona win, ending UK's school-record 44 win season.
There was a thought after the game that UK head coach John Cohen was in line for the job at his tradition-rich alma matter, Mississippi State. After sitting in the pressbox and watching how Henderson was able to mix-and-match his way through the rugged Arizona batting order and keep UK in the game with a patchwork pitching staff, it reinforced my belief that Henderson would soon be an outstanding head coach.