LOUISVILLE -- After Kentucky plated five runs to take a three-run lead off Louisville closer Neil Holland in the top of the ninth, the 11th-ranked Cardinals plated four runs in the bottom of the ninth off UK closer Matt Little to upstage a late UK comeback and even the season series with a 10-9 win over the Wildcats, in front of a UL regular-season school-record 4,039 fans on a gorgeous Wednesday night at Jim Patterson Stadium.
The Cardinals emerged victorious in a back-and-forth affair, with both closers in the game allowing a combined nine runs in the final inning. The win evens the season series between the two schools for the fourth consecutive season, as the two clubs have split the home-and-home series each season since 2007. UK won the first meeting 5-0 on April 6 in Lexington.
UK entered the top of the ninth inning trailing by two runs with Holland on the mound, one of the top closers in college baseball. The UL right-hander entered the game ranking fifth in the NCAA with 10 saves. UK got to Holland with a one-out rally, as Chris Bisson and Chad Wright singled and Andy Burns delivered a pinch-hit RBI single through the right side of the infield to cut the lead to one. Hot-hitting Lance Ray then evened up the game with Wright at third base as the game-tying run, sending a double screaming down the right-field line. After an intentional walk to senior Keenan Wiley, UK turned to one of the only players it had left on the bench to pinch hit, Navarro Hall, who drew a bases-loaded walk on a 3-1 count to force home the go-ahead run. Hall entered the at bat with a .091 average in 11 at bats this season. Sophomore Cory Farris followed and forced home two more runs with an RBI fielder’s choice, with the double-play turn at second base sailing into the Louisville dugout on the first-base side. Holland got out of the inning with a strikeout to put UL down three runs entering the bottom of the ninth.
Trailing 9-6 after a four-run ninth by the Wildcats, the Cardinals posted four runs on four hits, a hit-by-pitch and a walk off Little, with freshman Zak Wasserman delivering the walk-off single into centerfield to end the game. After Little got nine-hole hitter Drew Haynes to groundout to leadoff, catcher Jeff Arnold singled up the middle and then Little hit Adam Duvall with two strikes to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of slugger Andrew Clark. Clark delivered an RBI double into right-centerfield, scoring one run to cut the UK lead to two. Ryan Wright then tied the game with a bat-handle single into rightfield, scoring Clark. After Phil Wunderlich singled through the left side, UK pulled Little with a 2-0 count on Stewart Ijames. UK turned to Braden Kapteyn, who threw two balls, well out of the strike zone, walking Ijames to load the bases for Wasserman, a freshman. After Kapteyn threw his third consecutive ball to put Wasserman ahead 1-0 in the count, the freshman lined the walk-off single into centerfield, scoring the game-winning run.
The Wildcats walk-off loss is its second consecutive loss of the walk-off variety, as UK suffered a walk-off loss in the rubber match at No. 29 Auburn Sunday afternoon. UK has suffered four walk-off losses this season, with three coming on the road in Southeastern Conference play.
Little (2-2) took the loss for UK, allowing four hits and four runs in his 1/3 of an inning. UK starter Jordan Cooper tossed a pre-designed three innings, allowing three hits and no runs, not issuing a walk and striking out one. Cooper was relieved by Mike Kaczmarek, who loaded the bases with no outs in his first inning of work and went 1.1 innings, allowing four hits and two runs. Freshman Walter Wijas replaced Kaczmarek and got two outs before giving way to fellow freshman right-hander Sam Kidd. Kidd got one out, hitting one and walking one, with both runners scoring. UK then turned to junior Nick Kennedy, who went 2.2 innings, allowing four hits and two runs – one earned – striking out two.
Kentucky (23-18) jumped out to a two-run lead with a pair of runs in the first two frames, with Louisville evening up the game with two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Cardinals broke open the game with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, with UK cutting the lead to one run with a Chris Bisson two-run homer in the top of the seventh. The Cardinals added an insurance run with a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning from Wunderlich.
Louisville (33-7) found itself in a jam in the top of the eighth inning, with UK loading the bases with two outs. The Cardinals turned to Holland (7-0), who has stifled opposing teams this season with a 10 saves and a 6-0 record. UL starter Derek Self went three innings, allowing four hits and two unearned runs, not issuing any walks and striking out two. Self was relieved by lefty Bob Revesz, who pitched well in three innings, allowing only two hits and one walk, striking out one. Justin Amlung followed Revesz, getting two outs and allowing one hit and two runs. Former UL Saturday starter Dean Kiekhefer came on to get one out, before Tony Zych took the ball to start the eighth inning, getting two outs, allowing one hit and hitting two batters. Holland (7-0) got the final out in the eighth inning and finished going 1.1 innings, allowing four hits and five runs – four earned – walking two and striking out two in his seventh win of the season.
UK pounded out nine runs on 13 hits in the game getting multi-hit games from Bisson, Wright, Ray, Farris and Gunner Glad. Bisson went 2-for-5 with two RBI in the game, with Wright going 2-for-5. Glad added a 2-for-4 game with his 10th double of the season and Ray connected on two doubles. Ray now owns seven doubles over the last four games and in his last six games – all starts – Ray is batting .583 (14-for-24) with seven doubles, two homers and nine RBI, drawing three walks. Farris went 2-for-4 with an RBI, with freshman catcher Luke Maile adding an RBI single and two walks.
The game wraps up a stretch where UK played a ranked opponent in 19 of 21 games and the current stretch of 15 consecutive opponents. UK entered the game Wednesday night with a No. 23 RPI in the NCAA.
UK returns to action for a three-game series beginning Friday at Tennessee. First pitch on Friday is slated for 5 p.m. ET at 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 can also see the game live on ESPNU.
UK struck in the top of the first inning, making it 1-0 early. After Bisson and Wright led off the inning with a pair of two-strike groundouts, Glad belted a double off the wall in rightfield, with the ball skipping over the fence for a ground-rule double. Ray followed and struck out swinging but a wild pitch enabled the ball to get back to the backstop, with Glad hustling around third. The throw to first to get Ray sailed high, with Glad just beating the return throw to the plate for the first run of the game.
The Wildcats added a run in the top of the second, stretching the lead to 2-0. After Wiley struck out to lead off, Michael Williams lined a hard-hit ball into rightfield, with the ball going as an error, with Williams reaching at first. Farris followed and singled on the first pitch through the right side. Maile notched the RBI single with a bat-handle single down the right-field line, scoring the hustling Williams from second and moving Farris to third. Taylor Black then chopped a swinging bunt off the plate and Farris got caught trying to score on the play, with Black reaching on a fielder’s choice. Bisson then popped out to end the frame.
Louisville evened up the game with a pair of runs on four hits in the bottom of the fourth inning, getting to Kaczmarek in his first inning of action. Clark led off the inning with a flare single into leftfield. Wright then followed his lead with a flare single of his own into centerfield. Wunderlich then loaded the bases with a bat-handle single into centerfield. Ijames scored Clark after hitting into a bases-loaded 6-4-3 double play and Cade Stallings doubled down the left-field line to score Wright from third base.
Louisville took the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. After Kidd got Wright to pop up on the first pitch to lead off, he plunked Wunderlich with the first pitch he saw. Kidd then issued a walk to Ijames, ending the night for Kidd. Kennedy was called upon and allowed a single to rightfield to load the bases. After Kennedy struck out Kyle Grieshaber, with Wunderlich scoring on a passed ball, Haynes came to the plate. Kennedy got Haynes to hit a comebacker to the mound, but the ball bounced off the tip of his glove, sailing into no-man’s land in leftfield, allowing two runs to score.
The Wildcats got two runs back in the top of the seventh inning, cutting the UL lead to 5-4. After Farris grounded out to leadoff, Maile drew his second walk of the game and was pinch run for by Neiko Johnson. After Johnson stole second and Black popped out, Bisson connected on a 1-1 offering from Justin Amlung and belted it over the rightfield fence for his third homer of the year.
UK had a great chance to plate runs in the top of the eighth inning, loading the bases on Zych with two outs. UL turned to Holland with the bases juiced and Marcus Nidiffer making his first plate appearance of the game. Holland got Nidiffer down 1-2 and after a couple of two-strike pitches were fouled off, Holland got Nidiffer to strike out swinging to leave the bases loaded.