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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After plating an unearned run in the seventh inning to erase a Kentucky one-run lead, No. 1 Vanderbilt rallied in the top of the ninth with five consecutive two-out hits off the UK bullpen and held on for a 6-3 win over the Wildcats, claiming the series on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
After the Commodores erased a UK 3-2 lead with the unearned tally in the seventh inning and UK couldn’t take the lead in the eighth with runners on the corners and one out, the Dores did two-out damage in the top of the ninth inning.
Anthony Gomez got it sparked with a single to leftfield and was pushed to third after Aaron Westlake’s two-strike knock up the middle. UK brought in righty Trevor Gott in place of lefty Alex Phillips with the runners on the corners and two outs for All-American third baseman Jason Esposito. The slugger delivered with an RBI hit down the line on the first pitch from Gott to give Vandy the 4-3 lead. Mike Yastrzemski then singled up the middle on the third pitch of the game from Gott for a 5-3 cushion and Curt Casali singled on the first pitch for another two-out RBI single and a 6-3 lead.
The Wildcats entered the finale on Sunday with an opportunity to claim the series from the top-ranked Commodores, who entered the series leading the SEC, ranking No. 1 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, and leading the SEC in nearly every statistical category. UK rode a dominating complete-game shutout from Alex Meyer to a 2-0 win in the opener, with Vandy responding with a 10-3 win to even the series on Saturday and rallying from behind for the 6-3 win in the finale.
Kentucky (21-27, 5-19 Southeastern Conference) was led offensively by Thomas McCarthy, who collected three hits and an RBI, including his team-high 17th double of the game. Junior Michael Williams gave UK a 3-2 lead with his sixth homer of the year in the fourth inning, with UK also getting hits from Braden Kapteyn, Neiko Johnson and Lucas Witt.
UK starter Jordan Cooper went six innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs, walking six and striking out five for his sixth quality start and his fourth consecutive quality start. Over his last four starts, Cooper has owned a 1.80 ERA and since moving into a midweek role before returning to the weekend staff on Sunday, the righty has made five starts, owning a 2.10 ERA in 30 innings pitched. UK went to lefty Alex Phillips (1-2) in a tight spot in the seventh and Phillips went 2.2 innings, allowing two hits without a walk and one strikeout, suffering the loss with the two runs scoring in the ninth charged to him. Freshman Trevor Gott replaced him and allowed three hits and one run without recording an out in the ninth, before southpaw Taylor Rogers made his first career relief outing to end the ninth frame.
Vanderbilt (39-6, 18-5 SEC) starter Taylor Hill went six innings, allowing four hits and three runs, walking one and striking out six. Will Clinard, Kevin Ziomek, T.J. Pecoraro and Navery Moore were used in relief, with Moore (4-1) picking up the win with the three of the final four outs of the game. Lefty Corey Williams entered the get the final out of the contest, picking up his second save of the year.
The Wildcats will return to action on Tuesday, hosting Indiana at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be televised live on the Big Blue Sports Network, with Dick Gabriel (play-by-play), MLB Gold Glover Doug Flynn (color) and Ryan Lemond (sideline) calling the action. The telecast can be found on FSN South (Insight-Lexington channel 52) and in Central Kentucky on CWKYT-TV (Insight-Lexington channel 5). The game will also be broadcast live on BBSN, 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.
Vanderbilt got on the board in the top of the first for the second consecutive game, as Anthony Gomez drew a 3-1 walk – just his third walk of the year – and Aaron Westlake crushed his 10th home run of the year over the rightfield fence.
UK got a run back in the bottom of the first inning, as Kapteyn smacked a two-out single to the right side of the infield, with Riley Reynolds unable to make a play at the hard-hit ball. McCarthy then followed and lined a double down the leftfield line to score Kapteyn for first, just ahead of the tag at the plate. The double was McCarthy’s SEC-leading 17th of the year, notching his 20th two-out hit of the year and his 12th two-out RBI of the season.
Williams lifted UK to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, as McCarthy led off with a single through the left side. Williams then connected on a towering home run over the leftfield fence, his sixth of the year.
Vanderbilt evened up the game with a run in the seventh inning on some wacky breaks, as Kemp singled up the middle to lead off and Gomez drew a walk to end Cooper’s outing. UK then called on Phillips, who got a fly out from Westlake and a fly out from Esposito. On the throw back into the infield from Witt in centerfield, the ball was misplayed, allowing Kemp to score the game-tying run from second base on an error.
The Wildcats had its best chance to take the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Johnson got hit by a pitch to lead off and stole second on the first pitch to Maile, a swinging strike. Home plate umpire Joe Marion called Maile out on batter interference, with Johnson forced to return to first. After an extended argument from UK head coach Gary Henderson, Witt smacked a single on a hit-and-run into centerfield, with Johnson scampering to third. Vanderbilt then called on a left-handed reliever to face UK freshman left-handed hitter Matt Reida. After failing to bunt the first pitch, Reida pushed it to a charging Westlake at first base, who flipped to the plate to get Johnson out as the go-ahead run. The frame ended with Wright bounced out to second.
UK got two runners on and the tying run to the plate in the form of Wright in the bottom of the ninth, chasing Moore from the game in favor of Williams. Wright grounded out the end the game and snap his hitting and reached-base safely streak.
GAME NOTES: Senior shortstop Taylor Black has started 88 consecutive games, dating back to the 2010 season … Braden Kapteyn made his 52nd consecutive start and Chad Wright his 55th consecutive starting assignment … Thomas McCarthy connected on his SEC-leading 17th double of the year with two outs in the first inning, scoring Kapteyn … McCarthy now owns 20 two-out hits and 12 two-out RBI on the year …McCarthy has now reached base safely in 45 of 47 starts this year … Michael Williams hit his sixth homer of the year in the fourth inning, also coming as his 12th two-strike hit of the season … UK starter Jordan Cooper went six innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs, walking six and striking out five for his sixth quality start and his fourth consecutive quality start … Sophomore Taylor Rogers made his first career relief appearance … Wright had his streak of reaching safely in 24 consecutive game snapped, in addition to this nine-game hitting streak.