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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With the game locked at 3-3, Kentucky junior two-way star Braden Kapteyn belted a two-run homer into the batting eye in centerfield and then took the mound in the eighth and ninth to record a six-out save and lift the Wildcats to a 5-3 series-opening win over Tennessee, in the Southeastern Conference opener on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (11-7, 1-0 SEC) battled from a 3-0 hole with a three-run inning in the bottom of the fifth to even up the game at 3-3. After a scoreless sixth and after UK starter Alex Meyer got through the top of the seventh with the game still tied, UK mounted its late-inning rally. Senior shortstop Taylor Black led off the inning with a rope through the left side of the infield and after a line out from Chad Wright, Kapteyn pelted a 1-2 offering from UT go-to reliever Zack Godley to the deepest part of the yard, a no-doubt bomb into the hitting eye in centerfield.
After Kapteyn gave the Wildcats the lead in the bottom of the seventh, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder took the mound for the lockdown top of the eighth. A member of the John Olerud Two-Way Player Award Watch List a year ago, Kapteyn retired all six hitters he faced in order over the eighth and ninth innings, striking out three and throwing 29 pitches. The save was the seventh of Kapteyn's career, moving him into a tie for the 10th-most career saves in UK history.
Meyer, a 6-foot-9 preseason All-SEC selection by Baseball America, turned in a quality outing going seven innings and allowing seven hits and three runs, with only two runs earned. A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer walked two and struck out seven before turning it over to Kapteyn with the lead in the eighth.
Kapteyn, a 2010 Cape Cod League All-Star during the summer as a reliever, led the way for the Wildcats at the plate, but Black charted a three-hit game, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored at the top of the order. UK also got hits from Thomas McCarthy, J.T. Riddle and Knoxville native Michael Williams, with McCarthy delivering a clutch two-out RBI single in the fifth to even up the game. Riddle, the reigning 2010 Kentucky High School Mr. Baseball out of Frankfort's Western Hills High School, extended his hitting streak to a career-long six games and Wright has now reached base safely in seven consecutive contests, with the junior getting hit by two pitches and reaching on a fielder's choice.
Down 3-0 in the bottom of the fifth, with UT ace southpaw Stephen Gruver cruising through four frames, UK mounted a three-run rally to even up the game, utilizing an aggressive base-running approach. Black started the inning off by reaching on a misplayed popup in the infield, moving to second on a misfired pickoff attempt that went for an error on Gruver. After Wright got hit by a pitch, Kapteyn ripped an RBI single up the middle to score Black and get UK on the board. With Luke Maile at the plate, UK successfully executed the double steal, with Kapteyn reaching safely at second and Wright sliding in before the tag at the plate. With two outs and Kapteyn at second base, McCarthy drilled a single through the infield for the game-tying RBI, scoring Kapteyn.
Tennessee (15-3, 0-1 SEC) got on the board in the third innings, plating two runs on one hit and a UK error. After a leadoff groundout, Khayyan Norfork reached on a fielding error at second base and Andrew Toles got a single to leftfield off the end of the bat. With Norfork and Toles in scoring position, Josh Liles poked a seeing-eye single through the right side, scoring the duo.
UT got a run in the fifth, as Norfork led off with a four-pitch walk and stole second base. After a single moved Norfork to third, Liles scored him with a RBI fielder's choice, with UK just missing turning the double play that would have gotten UK out of the frame.
Gruver took the loss, the first of the year for the southpaw that entered the game owning a 1.27 ERA in 28.1 innings. Gruver allowed seven hits and four runs, striking out seven in 6.1 innings. Liles led UT at the plate with three RBI.