COLUMBIA, S.C. -- After Kentucky rallied to take a 3-2 lead late, No. 3 South Carolina evened up the game in the eighth to force extra innings and in the bottom of the 10th inning, Adrian Morales reached second base on a misplayed pop-up into shallow centerfield, scoring on Brady Thomas' walk-off infield single, handing the Gamecocks a 4-3 win to clinch the series, in front of a capacity crowd of 8,542 fans on Saturday afternoon at Carolina Stadium.
After UK took a 3-2 lead with a run in the seventh inning, South Carolina plated a run in the eighth inning to even up the game at 3-3. After South Carolina star closer Matt Price set down UK in order in the top of the 10th inning, UK freshman reliever Trevor Gott opened the bottom of the 10th inning by inducing slugging cleanup hitter Christian Walker to fly out for the first out. That brought up Morales, who had reached base safely in his four previous plate appearances. Gott forced Morales to pop a fly ball into shallow centerfield, with UK second baseman J.T. Riddle and shortstop Taylor Black sprinting towards centerfielder Brian Adams. The ball inexplicably dropped in on the grass in between the three players, with Morales hustling to second for his school-record third double of the game. UK then intentionally walked Jake Williams to set up the double play, as Williams had tied the game with a single in the eighth.
With Thomas at the plate and one out, Morales surprised the UK defense and stole third base to put USC in a position to walk-off with the win with a sacrifice fly or a single. Gott worked the count to 3-2 and Thomas smoked a hard-hit grounder right at Riddle, who was playing just on the grass in an attempt to turn the inning-ending double play. Riddle was in the right position but the hard-hit ball took a wicked hop, climbing his left arm for the walk-off infield single.
The Wildcats showed tremendous resiliency to rally from behind against the defending NCAA Champions in an electric atmosphere, as South Carolina struck first with two runs in the second inning. UK immediately responded with two runs in the third and rallied with a run in the seventh to take a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning.
UK lefty reliever Mike Kaczmarek, who had helped UK escape the seventh inning with the lead despite a leadoff double, was left in the game to face the two left-handed hitters due up in the eighth. Kaczmarek got Scott Wingo, the No. 2 hitter, to pop out before facing All-America centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Kaczmarek plunked Bradley with a two-strike pitch, with Bradley moving to third after Walker doubled down the line. UK called on Gott to get out of the jam and he walked Morales to load the bases and set up the twin killing. Williams smacked the RBI single to centerfield to score Bradley and tie the game at 3-3. Gott settled down and struck out the next two hitters to take the game to the ninth inning.
South Carolina (21-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) closer Matt Price came on in the ninth inning and sat UK down in order in the ninth and 10th inning to set up the offensive heroics in the bottom of the 10th frame. Price (3-2) picked up the win with his two perfect innings, not allowing a base runner and striking out two.
Kentucky (15-13, 2-6 SEC) totaled eight hits and two walks in the game, led by freshman outfielder Lucas Witt, who had the go-ahead RBI with two outs in the seventh inning. Witt finished 2-for-5, while Chad Wright added a 2-for-4 game with an RBI in the third inning and Braden Kapteyn went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Riddle and Thomas McCarthy added hits, with Riddle also drawing a walk to lead off UK's seventh inning, sparking the go-ahead rally. McCarthy's hit stretched his streak of 15 consecutive games reaching base safely and the third baseman has now reached base safely in 27 of UK's 28 games.
Gott (1-3) took the hard-luck loss, allowing four hits and one run in two innings of work, walking two and striking out two. UK turned to freshman southpaw Corey Littrell for his first career SEC start, replacing Jordan Cooper who had started the first six weekends of the year. Littrell, a native of Louisville, Ky., turned in a splendid start in an exciting atmosphere, tossing his team-high fifth quality start, going six innings, allowing six hits and two runs, walking three and fanning one. UK matched up extremely effectively out of the bullpen, as Nick Kennedy and Alex Phillips each got one out and Kaczmarek recorded two outs.
USC starter Colby Holmes went five innings, allowing seven hits and two runs, not issuing a walk and striking out four.
The series will resume in the finale on Sunday, with first pitch set for 1:30 p.m. ET at Carolina Stadium. UK will send sophomore southpaw Taylor Rogers (2-2, 5.45 ERA) vs. Carolina freshman righty Forest Koumas (2-0, 2.79 ERA). The game will be televised by live Fox Sports South, with Larry Conley and Andy Demetra on the call, available in Lexington on Insight channel 52 (high definition on 929). In addition the game will be broadcast by the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM, in addition to coverage on UKathletics.com.
South Carolina struck for two runs on three hits in the second inning, as Morales led off with a double down the right-field line, moving to third on Williams' hard-hit ground out to the right side. Thomas then connected on a 3-2 offering from an RBI single up the middle after fouling off several two-strike pitches. After Thomas was called out on a fielder's choice, Robert Beary took first and stole second on a great jump off Littrell's first movement. Evan Marzilli then scored Beary with a single up the middle.
UK immediately answered with two runs on three hits in the top of the third. After Matt Reida struck out swinging to lead off, Witt sailed a double over the head of the leftfielder, his third double of the year. Wright then scored Witt with his second hit of the game, a single through the right side. After Black grounded out, Kapteyn ripped an RBI single to leftfield, scoring Wright, who took second on a balk.
GAME NOTES: Chad Wright's single up the middle in the first inning was his eighth first-inning hit of the year ... Wright has now reached base safely in 25 of UK's 28 games this season ... Lucas Witt collected his third double of the year in the third inning ... With a single in the fourth, Thomas McCarthy has now reached base safely in 15 consecutive games and in 27 of UK's 28 games ... Corey Littrell walked a hitter in the first inning, the first, first-inning walk he has allowed this year ... Catcher Luke Maile stole his fourth base of the year.