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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Senior Mike Kaczmarek made his first start since Feb. 25 and went 4-for-4 at the plate and then took to the mound to record the final four outs for the save, leading the Kentucky Wildcats to a series-clinching 7-3 win over Tennessee in the rubber match of the Southeastern Conference three-game series, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
After Kentucky won game one of the series on Friday 5-3 behind heroics from junior Braden Kapteyn, Tennessee rebounded for a 12-8 win on Saturday, to even up the series at set the stage for the rubber match on Sunday. With UK in search of an offensive spark in the lineup on Sunday, the Wildcats inserted Kaczmarek into the lineup for his first start since Feb. 25 against Illinois-Chicago.
Kaczmarek, who has been UK's primary closer throughout the year on the mound and has made 55 career appearances over his four-year career as a go-to reliever, was the story of the game. The Orland Park, Ill., native collected his first career multi-hit game, ripping four singles as the designated hitter and the No. 7 hitter in the lineup. With UK holding a 6-3 lead and the tying run at the plate with two outs in the top of the eighth, UK called on Kaczmarek to relieve freshman right-hander Trevor Gott. Kaczmarek struck out the first hitter he faced, No. 2 man Andrew Toles, before retiring the side in the top of the ninth for his fourth save of the year.
Kaczmarek was not the only story of the game, as freshman J.T. Riddle has emerged as one of the top freshmen in college baseball. Considered a highly advanced middle infielder and the 2010 Kentucky High School Mr. Baseball selection out of Frankfort, Ky., Riddle has forced his way into the lineup with his bat, registering his first career starts in rightfield during the 2011 season. Riddle, a natural shortstop, continued his torrid week, belting his first career homer as part of a four-run UK first inning, a three-run jack to give UK an early lead. Riddle went 1-for-2 with three RBI in the game, adding a walk and getting hit by a pitch.
During UK's four-game week, Riddle was on fire, batting .538 (7-for-13) with a homer and eight RBI, drawing two walks and getting hit by one pitch, striking out just once and stealing 2-of-2 bases. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound left-handed hitter had a .769 slugging percentage and a .588 on-base mark during the week. In addition, Riddle made two spectacular plays in rightfield during the weekend, a pair of fully extended diving grabs of sinking liners down the foul line, collecting an outfield-leading 10 putouts on the week. On the year, Riddle - who will also pitch for UK this year - has batted .381 (16-for-42) with four doubles, one homer and 10 RBI, drawing nine walks and striking out just five times, stealing 4-of-4 bases.
Kentucky (11-8, 2-1 SEC) opened conference play with the series victory, besting the red-hot Tennessee Volunteers (16-4, 1-2 SEC), as the Vols entered the series winning nine consecutive games and leading the league in nearly every team offensive category, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases.
UK starter Taylor Rogers (2-1) picked up the win by battling through five innings. A native of Littleton, Colo., Rogers was not as efficient in his fifth start of the year but allowed only two earned runs, with three total runs scoring and Rogers striking out two. Gott relieved Rogers to start the sixth inning and the freshman was extremely effective, going 2.2 shutout innings to set the stage for Kaczmarek's pitching heroics.
UK was led offensively by Riddle and Kaczmarek but Kapteyn continued to swing a hot stick throughout the weekend, going 2-for-5 with two RBI. Senior shortstop Taylor Black batted 2-for-5 and sophomore catcher Luke Maile finished the game 2-for-4 with an RBI. Chad Wright and Thomas McCarthy also collected hits, with McCarthy also adding a walk.
Kentucky returns to action with a pair of midweek games at Cliff Hagan Stadium before opening up its road portion of the league schedule next weekend. UK will host Cincinnati on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET and Canisius on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The games will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network, with Neil Price and Dick Gabriel on the call. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Tennessee starter Carter Watson (3-1) took the loss in his first career start, going one innings and allowing four hits and four runs. Rob Catapano ate up some middle innings, going three innings without allowing an earned run. Khayyan Norfork, the SEC leader in nearly every statistical category, went 3-for-5 with an RBI and cleanup hitter Josh Liles added a 3-for-5 game.
UK got the scoring started with a four-run inning in the bottom of the first, as Wright led off with a double into the gap, scoring on Kapteyn's RBI single, smoked to leftfield. After McCarthy drew a walk to put runners on first and second, Riddle connected on a 1-1 offering from Watson for a three-run homer a line-drive jack over the rightfield fence.
UT got a run back in the second inning, as Ethan Bennett chopped a single through the middle with one out, moving to second on a fielding error. After a second fielder's choice in the inning, he scored on Zach Osborne's RBI single through the hole on the right side.
In the top of the third, Matt Duffy belted a solo homer over the leftfield fence, his fourth of the year.
In the bottom of the third, Kapteyn led off the inning by hitting into an error, charged to Osborne, a native of Louisville. After McCarthy's sacrifice bunt and Riddle's groundout, Kapteyn scored on a balk by Catapano.
UT got a run on three hits in the top of the fourth, as Osborne doubled with two outs down the opposite-field line, scoring on Norfork's double down the leftfield line.
In the seventh, UK added to its lead with a run on three hits, with McCarthy singled with one out, stealing second and moving to third on a wild pitch. Riddle then drew a walk and Maile scored McCarthy with a single to leftfield.
The Wildcats plated one run on two hits in the bottom of the eighth for the final margin, as Black led off with a single ripped to left-centerfield, moving to second on Wright's sacrifice bunt and scoring on Kapteyn's RBI single through the right side of the infield.