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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Trailing by one run entering the bottom of the eighth inning, the Kentucky baseball team posted four runs in the frame and closer Matt Little picked up his fifth save of the season to seal the victory for the Wildcats, notching a 7-6 win over No. 24 Alabama in the series opener Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (20-11, 3-7 Southeastern Conference) found itself facing a one-run hole entering the bottom of the eighth after Alabama picked up the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning. After Alabama starter Adam Morgan got two outs to start off the bottom of the eighth, senior centerfielder Keenan Wiley got a two-out single into right-centerfield and Taylor Black drew a walk to bring pinch hitter Cory Farris to the plate and ending Morgan's night. Farris worked the count to 1-2 and hung a high single down the left-field line, just falling in fair territory, allowing Wiley to score the game-tying run and Farris to advance to second on the throw. UK then turned to pinch hitter Lance Ray to hit for Neiko Johnson and Ray worked the count full before lacing a hard-hit ball off the chest of Alabama's shortstop, Josh Rutledge. Rutledge attempted to gather the ball and fire to first base, but Ray was going to beat the throw to first base, with Rutledge's throw sailing out of play, allowing Black and Farris to score, with Ray moving to second base on the error and gathering one RBI on the hit. Leftfielder Chad Wright then tacked on a big insurance run, singling into centerfield, allowing pinch runner Navarro Hall to scamper home for the eventual decisive run.
UK left junior submarine reliever Nick Kennedy in the game to start the top of the ninth, with UK holding a three-run lead and needing three outs to seal the win. Kennedy had retired the first four hitters he faced in relief entering the ninth - two by strikeout. Kennedy allowed a first-pitch single to rightfield from Cal Tinsley and catcher Brock Bennett followed with a floating single into no-man's land in right-centerfield. Jon Kelton then scored the duo with a double into the left-centerfield gap, cutting the UK lead to 7-6 and ending the night for Kennedy with the game-tying run on second and no outs in the top of the ninth. UK turned to Little, who responded with a swinging strikeout of Rutledge for the first out and a groundout of Taylor Dugas for the second out, with Kelton moving to third base. Cleanup hitter Clay Jones, who hit his sixth homer of the year earlier in the game, came to the plate with the game-tying run on third and two out and after seeing a first-pitch strike and a ball miss, hit a groundball to Black at shortstop, with Jones out on the play at first base to seal the UK win.
UK third sacker Andy Burns had his third multi-homer game of the season, batting 2-for-4 with his eighth and ninth homers of the year, both of the solo variety. Wiley and Wright each notched three hits, with Wiley going 3-for-3 with a walk and Wright batting 3-for-4 with an RBI. Senior Gunner Glad continued his hot bat, extending his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games with a 2-for-4 game, adding an RBI double. The Wildcats also got hits from Farris, Ray, Chris Bisson and Marcus Nidiffer in the contest.
UK starter Logan Darnell (3-2) went 4.2 innings, allowing six hits, three runs - all earned - two walks and six strikeouts. The veteran lefty was relived in the fifth inning by sophomore Braden Kapteyn who got UK out of a mini jam in the fifth and pitched a perfect sixth inning before getting into some trouble in the seventh. Kapteyn gave up a leadoff homer to Bennett to break a 4-4 tie and give Alabama the lead, followed by a double by Kelton and a pop up to center by Josh Rutledge. Kentucky turned to left-handed pitcher Mike Kaczmarek to face Taylor Dugas, getting the dangerous Crimson Tide batter to groundout to short for the second out. UK then turned to Kennedy to finish the inning, getting Jones to groundout on a sharply hit ball back to the mound. Kennedy hurled a perfect eighth inning before giving up the three consecutive hits to start the ninth. Little got the three outs to pick up his fifth save of the season, with Kennedy (3-1) picking up the win.
Alabama (20-10, 4-6 SEC) starting pitcher, Morgan (4-1), pitched a solid 7.2 innings of work, allowing 11 hits, five runs - all earned - and two walks, while striking out three and picking up the loss. Jason Townsend relieved Morgan and did not record an out, giving up two hits, two runs all of which were earned. Brett Whitaker wrapped up the game for Alabama, giving up a hit but getting the strikeout to end the UK eighth.
The series will resume Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on 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. UK will send freshman lefty Taylor Rogers (3-3, 5.31 ERA) to the mound to face off with Alabama right-hander Jimmy Nelson (4-0, 2.52 ERA).
Alabama got on the board in the top of the second inning, posting two runs on three hits and using a Kentucky error. The inning started after Burns failed to gather in a ball on a tough hop, allowing Jones to reach. After Ross Wilson reached on a fielder's choice at second, he would get picked off attempting to steal second base for the second out. Darnell would not be out of trouble, giving up a double to Jake Smith and an RBI single to Chris Smelley to put Alabama on the board. Tinsley would then walk and the Crimson Tide would pick up their second run when Bennett singled to centerfield. The inning ended when Darnell got Kelton to strikeout looking.
UK answered with a run in the bottom of the second, as Burns lofted a 0-1 offering from Morgan, hitting a towering homer of the left-field fence. The homer was the team-best eighth homer of the year for Burns.
The Crimson Tide got the run back in the top of the third, as Jones hit a no-doubt jack over the left-centerfield wall. Jones, who now has six homers on the season, belted a high-soaring drive well over the scoreboard in left-centerfield. The solo shot gave UA a 3-1 lead.
UK had a great chance in the bottom of the fifth inning, loading the bases with one out, eventually scoring one run. Nidiffer led off with a single off the glove of Smith at third base and moved to second on Johnson's sacrifice bunt. Wright followed and got hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Bisson then singled through the right side, appearing to load the bases. However, first base umpire Mark Chapman ruled that Wright was struck by the ball as it skidded through the right side, with Wright being called out on the play. Now, with two outs and runner on first and second, Glad drilled a double into leftfield, scoring Nidiffer easily, but Bisson was thrown out at the plate by the throw from leftfield.
The tie would be short lived as the Crimson Tide got a leadoff homer by Bennett in the top of the seventh to give Alabama a one run lead. Bennett took the first pitch for a ball but belted the second pitch well over the left-field wall for his second homer of the season.