Cat Scratches: Top 20 Memorable Games Since 2006 (No. 1-5)
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.
5. David Price, Casey Weathers battle UK in thrilling 12-innings (2007)
Postgame Recap | Box Score (HTML)
After UK won the league in 2006 and firmly placed itself on the national baseball map, the 2007 season was important to establish Kentucky as a program not going anywhere. Despite missing the NCAA Tournament and SEC Tournament by what amounted to be half a game, UK still won 34 games and was a break away from another historic season.
The most exciting game that I can remember during that season was when David Price, the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, and the No. 1 Vanderbilt Commodores came to Lexington for a three-game series. This was my first year working full-time with the program and I remember us going all-out in pre-series promotion, trying to create a home-field advantage for UK's series. That worked out as 2,652 fans packed Cliff Hagan Stadium, but the game turned into a marathon that lasted five hours and 10 minutes, going into the 12th inning.
Price was as good as he could be through the first six innings, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning, with UK freshman outfielder Keenan Wiley leading off the inning and UK trailing 4-0. Wiley, who had made just one start in his career entering the game, was inserted into the lineup to provide the UK offense a spark. After Price struck out Antone DeJesus on four pitches to lead off the frame, Wiley connected on the second pitch of the at bat from Price, screaming a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield. That opened the flood gates for UK, who plated two runs in the sixth and after Vandy made it 5-2 with a run in the top of the seventh, UK mounted a five-run inning in the bottom of the seventh, taking a 7-6 lead after the first five hitters reached base and came around to score off Price. Price's final line was much uglier then his first five innings were on the mound, going 6.0+ innings, allowing six hits and six runs, walking two and striking out nine.
UK held the lead over the top-ranked team in the nation, and one of the best teams in the decade, entering the top of the eighth, when Vandy struck for three runs to make it 8-7. In typical dramatic fashion, UK plated a run in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game, thanks to a lead-off walk from Brian Spear and a stolen base from pinch runner Brock Wright.
With Price out of the game, Vanderbilt's acclaimed coach Tim Corbin opted to utilize his star closer, future first-round pick Casey Weathers, a flame-throwing outfielder-turned-reliever. Weathers, the top closer in college baseball in 2007, was dominating, tossing four perfect innings, striking out five. UK couldn't muster any offense off Weathers, and Vanderbilt got a pair of doubles to lead off the 12th and an RBI groundout from scrappy second baseman Alex Feinberg for the difference.
The game was back-and-forth and it was extremely well-pitched by UK's Chris Rusin, Price and Weathers. It was exciting because it involved one of the top pitching prospects in the history of college baseball, an electric atmosphere and a riveting game.
4. Ray's walk-off homer gives UK win over defending NCAA Champs (2010)
Postgame Recap | Box Score (HTML) | Photo Gallery | Postgame Interviews (Video)
It has already been documented what a huge series sweep UK posted over LSU on the next-to-last weekend of the 2010 season, keeping the Wildcats in the postseason hunt. That whole weekend got started with an extremely dramatic win over the 20th-ranked Tigers on Friday night.
UK had started the week poorly, dropping a pair of midweek games, at Indiana and against Lipscomb, using a makeshift pitching staff to fight through the 19 innings of baseball. The IU game was especially heartbreaking, as UK scored a run in the top of the 10th before allowing a walk-off IU win, 18-17. Kentucky had to respond in the weekend if it were to play postseason baseball.
Enter Lance Ray. UK's junior slugger, a transfer from Las Vegas, had emerged late in the season as one of the top hitters in the college game after slumping and recovering from an offseason injury early in the year. Ray was hitting his stride when UK needed him most and was coming off a 4-for-5, five RBI, two walk game at Indiana that saw Ray hit two homers and come a single shy of hitting for the cycle.
UK started freshman southpaw Taylor Rogers, who dazzled early in the season as a breakout newcomer in the weekend rotation. Rogers was pulled in the fourth and fellow freshman Walter Wijas stepped up and performed splendidly out of the bullpen.
LSU plated a run in the top of the first but Ray struck for a three-run homer in the home half of the inning. LSU added to its lead, taking a 9-3 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning. UK mounted a rally and plated three in the bottom of the inning, cutting the lead to 9-6, chasing LSU ace Anthony Ranaudo from the game after a bases-loaded walk from Marcus Nidiffer with one out. LSU's star setup man Paul Bertuccini then went to work with 3.2 shutout innings entering the bottom of the ninth.
LSU elected to bring in closer Matty Ott, who saved 22 games in leading LSU to the national championship the year before. Ott, considered the top closer in college baseball, allowed a leadoff double from wide receiver/outfielder Brian Adams. Chad Wright and Gunner Glad drew walks to bring the winning run to the plate in the form of Ray. Ott struggled to find the plate, throwing two straight balls to Ray, who worked the count to 3-1. Ray then connected, sending a no-doubt walk-off homer soaring over the right-field fence, sending UK to the series-opening victory.
Ray was the hero and most of the UK players, coaches and fans were blown away at how hot he was swinging the bat. It was an exciting game and a thrilling walk-off homer that gave UK a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth against the team that won the NCAA title the year before and would win the SEC Tournament a few weeks later.
3. Wiley's first career homer gives UK 12th inning, walk-off win over UL (2008)
Postgame Recap | Box Score (HTML)
In 2008, UK was in the midst of another historic season when Louisville came to town for the first of the annual two-game, home-and-home series. The Cardinals were coming off a trip to the College World Series, poking through a regional at Missouri and besting Oklahoma State in a surprise Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium. The Cardinals were slumping entering the game however, with UK ranked No. 9, owning and 26-5 record and the Cards coming in at 16-13. That record doesn't mean much though, as these two teams have quickly established an intense rivalry, since UK won the SEC Title in 2006.
The two teams traded blows for the first six innings, with UK owning a 4-3 lead entering the top of the eighth inning. UK was using catcher Tyler Howe on the mound in relief in the eighth inning and UL plated two runs off Howe and one off Aaron Lovett to take a 6-4 lead.
Keenan Wiley, who had already charted two singles entering the eighth, got UK going with a double down the opposite-field line, moving to third on Ryan Wilkes single and scoring on Collin Cowgill's RBI knock. After a Brian Spear bunt, Marcus Nidiffer hung a sacrifice fly into leftfield to tie the game.
UK utilized Lovett, Brock Baber and Tyler Henry to get UK into the bottom of the 12th with the game tied 6-6. The game was wild, as both coaches emptied their benches with strategic pinch hitters, pinch runners, defensive changes and pitching changes. Louisville was on their third catcher of the night in the 12th and UK was on their fourth catcher of the night, utilizing Howe, Nidiffer, walk-on Brian Suerdick and now Spear, UK's first baseman catching for the first time in his career. UK had walk-on Kevin Bishop playing first base and UK used Neiko Johnson, Brock Wright, Chris Bisson and Bryan Rose off the bench to pinch hit. In the 10th inning of the already emotional game, Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
Wiley came to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning, with the game stretching into the next day and the see-saw battle over four hours old. Louisville turned to reliever Gavin Logsdon to face Wiley and after missing with the first pitch, Wiley turned on a 1-0 offering and belted it high over the right-field, 30-foot high wall, giving UK the walk-off win.
Wiley was the man of the hour, totaling four hits in six trips, adding two RBI and throwing out a runner at the plate from leftfield as he tried to score the go-ahead run late in the game. The game was exciting and gave UK a win over an in-state rival in a thrilling atmosphere.
2. UK clinches first SEC championship in school history at UGA (2006)
Postgame Recap | Box Score (HTML)
This is the one game of the 20 most memorable games that I was not at. I remember sitting in my home listening to star radio announcer Neil Price call this game, as UK went for the first SEC Championship in program history on a Friday (game two of the series) in Athens, Ga., on the final weekend of the year.
After UK fell in the series opener, the Wildcats needed a win in game two to win the league title. UK ran senior southpaw Craig Snipp to the mound, in the most monumental game he will ever pitch. Snipp was dominating, going the complete-game, striking out a career-high 11, walking just five and allowing only two earned runs in an 8-3 UK win. UK got a homer and four-RBI from Collin Cowgill and a home run and two RBI from Sean Coughlin. Cowgill's two-run homer in the seventh highlighted the four-run decisive inning for UK.
The game was monumental for a variety of reasons. It lifted UK to its first league title in the over-75 year history of the conference and in doing so, firmly established UK as a contender in the college game, all but locking up the regional host selection for the Wildcats. The celebration and joy that it kicked off was captured by the SID at the time, Scott Dean, and equipment manager Kyle Hite taking photos for a photo gallery. I still remember reading the postgame recap Dean wrote and thinking that his story may be the best postgame recap I have ever read on UKathletics.com.
1. UK hosts the NCAA Regional (2006)
Host Site Announcement | Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3 | Game 4
What else could No. 1 be? When UK hosted the NCAA Regional in 2006 it was a huge, unprecedented accomplishment. The summer was in full swing in the first week of June and the city of Lexington and all of the surrounding community were all of a sudden focused on the 2006 Kentucky baseball team.
Everyone rallied around the team, the program was getting a staggering amount of local and national-baseball-specific media coverage. The town was a buzz for UK baseball, as people lined up for tickets outside of Memorial Coliseum days in advance and people began driving by Cliff Hagan Stadium to see just what UK was doing to its facility to accommodate such large crowds.
One of my favorite moments was leaving the media room after the first game of the tournament and before UK played. As I stepped out of the building, I saw a long line of UK fans, stretching around the Cliff Hagan Stadium parking lot, around the Shively Training Center and back up Sports Center Drive. The fans were in line for tickets and I was in awe of what was going on. Thousands of UK fans lined up for tickets to a baseball game? It was unmatched.
UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart, deputy director of athletics Rob Mullens, associate athletics directors Scott Stricklin and Russ Pear went to work, helping turn the NCAA Regional into a must-see event. The support staff began working through the nights preparing for the regional, crews began installing bleachers down the left-field line and fans were setting up tailgating areas in the right-field parking lot. The sports turf department, led by Donnie Mefford and Marcus Dean, turned Cliff Hagan's playing surface into a gorgeous field, the nicest I have ever seen it look. It was as exciting as UK baseball has ever been.
"When we were fortunate to host the 2006 NCAA Regional, it was great to see the Big Blue Nation rally around this team and create unprecedented excitement for baseball in Lexington," UK marketing director Nathan Schwake said.
I can remember helping Scott Dean, Tony Neely and Susan Lax prepare for the event throughout the days leading up to the tournament. Those three captained the media relations efforts for our department, dealing with the unprecedented media demand and helping prepare a first-class operation. Football helped set up a media area in their meeting rooms and the entire campus was dialed in to the UK baseball program.
As Notre Dame, Ball State and College of Charleston began arriving it got even more exciting as the teams did the pre-tournament press conferences and practices. Having been to other NCAA Regional sites, hosted by other schools, the production UK did for the regional was staggering. The press conferences were full of media, people were showing up to watch practices from the outfield parking lot and the players and coaches were treated with the greatest care. UK had to set up a special area for media overflow on the photo deck, as the Cliff Hagan pressbox couldn't fit the entire press demand. For a school that had never hosted a NCAA Regional, Kentucky went all out.
The games were exciting as well, as Notre Dame and College of Charleston squared off in an epic game that nearly lasted 20 innings and Ball State's ace right-hander Ben Snyder twirled a gem in front of the largest crowd, at the time, to ever see a college baseball game in the state of Kentucky. UK responded with elimination-game wins over Notre Dame and Ball State, setting up a matchup with College of Charleston for the league title. Alas, UK's senior lefty Aaron Tennyson allowed a first-inning grand slam to COC and the Wildcats never recovered, ending UK's dream season.
Despite the season ending with a loss, it set the stage for many more years of success out of UK baseball. The Wildcats haven't stopped winning since that 2006 season, competing in the rugged SEC and consistently appearing in the NCAA Tournament picture. That NCAA Regional and the 2006 SEC Championship dream season was just the start of the great possibilities UK baseball holds. Now, every player who comes through Lexington can look back at what that team did in 2006 and see how it set the stage for their program, how it transformed the Kentucky baseball program into something special - a winner.
Complete Top 20 List
1. UK hosts the NCAA Regional (2006)
2. UK clinches first SEC championship in program history at UGA on final weekend (2006)
3. Wiley's first career homer gives UK 12th-inning, walk-off win over Louisville (2008)
4. Ray's walk-off homer gives UK comeback win over defending NCAA Champs (2010)
5. David Price, Casey Weathers battle UK in thrilling 12-inning Friday-night game (2007)
6. Marcus Nidiffer hits grand slam in final career home at bat to beat LSU (2010)
7. UK and Ole Miss battle in epic SEC Tournament winners-bracket game (2008)
8. In first career start, Lovett strikes out 12 in complete-game effort against Alabama (2008)
9. Tommy Warner provides unlikely heroics in SEC Tournament (2006)
10. Paxton and Ranuado thrill crowd in first SEC game played at Alex Box (2009)
11. UK patchwork pitching staff nearly bests Arizona's three first-round relievers (2008)
12. Back-and-forth slugfest at Arkansas (2010)
13. Shelby, Strieby lead UK to dramatic wins over South Carolina (2006)
14. UK wins Super Bulldog Weekend opener in 11 innings at Mississippi State (2009)
15. Logan Darnell tosses complete-game shutout at San Diego (2010)
16. Wildcats eliminate host Michigan from regionals behind Carroll, Cowgill (2008)
17. Wade solo homer in 11th lifts UK to road win at UNO on St. Patrick's Day (2009)
18. Kapteyn helps UK secure win, Caravelle Resort Invitational at Coastal Carolina (2010)
19. Kapteyn, Wright provide heroics in UK comeback win at Louisville (2009)
20. UK rallies in electric atmosphere for series-securing win at Ole Miss (2007)