LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Trailing by a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, No. 13 Kentucky rallied with four runs and escaped a ninth-inning jam to post a 5-4 win over Tennessee and claim the series opener, on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (24-9, 7-6 Southeastern Conference) found itself in a 2-1 hold entering the bottom of the eighth inning, as the Wildcats had left 11 runners on base. UK got its game-winning rally going on a two-base error that allowed Micheal Thomas to reach second after UT rightfielder Pierce Bily battled a wind-blown fly ball. UK elected to let junior Matt Reida swing instead of bunting, with the shortstop singling down the rightfield line on a bloop, allowing Thomas to reach third with no outs.
Freshman Kyle Barrett – who singled home UK’s lone run of the game at that point – then doubled off the wall in rightfield, allowing Thomas to score the tying run and push Reida to third as the go-ahead run. Zac Zellers then delivered with the infield drawn in, singling to leftfield to score two runs and give UK a 4-1 lead. All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino then doubled off the wall in rightfield to give UK its eventual game-winning run, scoring Zellers.
The ninth inning got wild as UK junior record holder for saves, Trevor Gott, took the mound with a three-run lead. After Gott retired the leadoff hitter, Will Maddox and A.J. Simcox poked singles to set up a one-out rally. Scott Price then loaded the bases with a single to leftfield but the ball slide under the glove of Zellers in leftfield and rolled to the wall, allowing Maddox and Simcox to score and push Price to third as the game-tying run with one out. Gott then walked Bily to set up the double play and bring Vincent Jackson to the plate, needing a fly ball to tie the game. Gott forced Jackson into a shallow fly ball in no-man’s land down the leftfield line, with Reida hustling from shortstop to make a running grab of a dangerous pop up, holding Price at third. Gott then finished off the win with a swinging strikeout of Taylor Smart on 2-2 fastball.
The one-run win improves the Wildcats to 8-1 in one-run games in 2013 and 6-0 in games decided in the last at bat. UK is now 26-12 in one or two-run games over the last two seasons.
Barrett led the Wildcats with his career-high 3-for-5 game, driving in two clutch runs and doubling for the fourth time. UK also got multiple-hit games from Zellers and A.J. Reed, with Cousino, Reida and J.T. Riddle each adding knocks.
Reed got the start on the mound for UK, working his fifth quality start of the year and the seventh of his career. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder tossed 6.2 innings, allowing eight hits and two runs, walking two and striking out six. Chandler Shepherd (2-0) got the win with 1.1 shutout innings of efficient relief, allowing a single and striking out one.
Gott picked up his ninth save of the year in the ninth, tying his own school record for saves in a season. In his career, the Lexington, Ky., native has a UK career record 20 saves in 23 chances, and has not allowed an earned run in his 21.2 innings in those saves, striking out 33.
Tennessee (14-18, 3-10 SEC) starter Aaron Quillen worked a pre-determined four innings, scattering five UK hits and no runs, walking one and striking out one. Freshman lefty Andy Cox started the fifth, working 1.1 innings, allowing one run on no hits and four walks, striking out one. Eric Martin got UT out of a sixth-inning jam and worked and worked 1.2 innings, allowing an unearned run. Dalton Saberhagen (0-2) took the loss, allowing two runs and getting one out.
The series will resume on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. UK will send senior southpaw Jerad Grundy (5-3, 3.46 ERA) to the mound to face off with Tennessee junior righty Nick Williams (1-2, 5.59 ERA).
Tennessee took the lead in the top of the fourth inning, as Bily doubled off the wall in leftfield to leadoff and scored on Jackson’s RBI single to rightfield. After Reed balked Jackson to scoring position, David Houser singled him home to leftfield.
UK got a run back in the sixth, as the Wildcats loaded the bases with three walks and a sacrifice bunt with one out. After UT got the lead runner on a groundout to first base, Barrett singled through the right side to score Riddle with UK’s first run of the game.