Box Score | Photo Gallery | Video: Baseball talks about series win | Cat Scratches: UK baseball still alive
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After missing three weeks due to illness, Kentucky sophomore right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer returned to the mound and turned in a dominating performance, leading UK to a 9-3 win over No. 4 South Carolina, clinching a series win over the Southeastern Conference front-running Gamecocks, on Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
A 6-foot-9, 220-pound sophomore, Meyer (5-2) missed the last three weeks of the season due to mononucleosis. The native of Greensburg, Ind., returned just in time to turn in his best outing of the season in a must-win situation for the Wildcats. Meyer turned in seven innings, allowing four hits and three unearned runs, walking three and striking out six. The Aflac High School All-American took the mound in his final inning of work with UK leading 4-3 and struck out the side in order, putting UK in position to grasp the lead. All told, Meyer filled up the strike zone throughout the game, tossing first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 31 hitters he faced in the game.
“(Alex) gave us a lot of things,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “One was seven innings of competitiveness and another was a continued message to the rest of the kids on our team that we can play with some poise when things don’t go your way. He gave us a message that you can make an adjustment within a game and can slow the game down and pitch with confidence even after giving up a three spot. Obviously, it was a tremendous boost of adrenaline to get his second wind there in the fifth inning and I think that he thought that he was done after the sixth but we convinced him that he had another inning in there and then he convinced himself that he had another inning by striking out the side. That will tell you a little bit about the power of the brain in our game. Being at 90 pitches at the end of six and then he went out and got another inning, I was really impressed with that. More importantly then that, he is impressed with it and now he knows that he can summon the strength and get it done when it needs to be done late in the game.”
“It was great to get back out there and I tried to keep my emotions down as much as I could,” Meyer said. “It was a big game for us and it feels like a whole new season for me to get back out there and get a win against a very, very good team like that. It means a lot to us and hopefully we can keep it rolling into the next weekend.”
After Meyer got UK through the first seven innings with UK nursing a one-run lead after plating the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth, UK turned to sophomore right-handed reliever Braden Kapteyn to close out the game, after UK closer Matt Little went 2.1 innings Saturday night for his seventh save of the season. Kapteyn went a perfect eighth and ninth innings, not allowing a hit or a base runner, striking out a season-best four. A native of Lansing, Ill., Kapteyn picked up his second save of the season and the sixth of his career. On Saturday night, Kapteyn delivered at the plate, adding UK’s only two RBI on a two-run double in the fifth inning of a 2-1 UK win.
The win gives UK a hard-fought victory over the Gamecocks, a club that entered the weekend leading the SEC and ranking as high as No. 4 nationally. The win snaps South Carolina’s streak of 10 consecutive series victories, dating back to last season and gives UK its first series win over the high-octane Gamecocks since UK swept the series in 2006, the season UK claimed the SEC Championship.
Kentucky (26-21, 9-15 SEC) has now bested a total of nine opponents ranked in 2010, including five teams ranked in the top 10. The Wildcats now own a total of 11 wins over teams currently ranked in the four major polls and entered the game ranked No. 25 in the latest NCAA RPI projections on BoydsWorld.com. In addition to the wins, UK has fallen in six one-run losses this season to ranked foes, including four walk-off losses on the road, with UK entering the final inning in all four walk-off losses with the lead. In UK’s 56 regular-season games this season, UK will face a ranked foe in 30 games, according to the latest weekly rankings. The series win is UK’s second series victory over a ranked SEC opponent this season, as UK bested No. 19 Alabama in a three-game series earlier in the season.
“Yeah, as you look at our record this year we have beat a lot of good teams, we just haven’t beat them enough,” Henderson said. “To take two out of three against the No. 4 team in the country is a good statement.”
UK turned in a scrappy outing at the plate, as preseason All-American second baseman Chris Bisson led the team with two RBI, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and stealing his conference-leading 25th and 26th bases of the year. UK got three solo homers to start the UK scoring, with Gunner Glad belting his team-high 11th in the bottom of the first, Marcus Nidiffer hitting his eighth jack of the year in the second and shortstop Taylor Black collecting his ninth homer of the season in the fourth to even the game at 3-3. Chad Wright added a hit and an RBI, stealing his 11th base of the year, while senior Keenan Wiley and sophomore Cory Farris each added a hit, with Farris’ coming in the eighth inning to drive in a run. UK started speedster Neiko Johnson in rightfield, with Johnson reaching base safely in all four trips to the dish, drawing two walks, getting hit by one pitch and adding a single, in addition to stealing his 21st, 22nd and 23rd bases of the season.
South Carolina (36-11, 17-7 SEC) utilized a plethora of pitchers in the game, showcasing a uniquely deep bullpen throughout the series. All told, USC used nine total pitchers in the game, with starter Jay Brown, allowing four hits and three runs in his 3.1 innings of work, walking two and striking out two. Jose Mata (5-1) suffered the loss after allowing a run in his 0.2 innings of work.
UK will return to action with a midweek game Tuesday at Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., with first pitch slated for 4 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, detailing the action.
South Carolina scored first in the game, getting RBI singles from Adrian Morales and Adam Matthews. The inning started with Meyer getting back-to-back groundouts in what looked was going to be an easy inning before a fielding error and then a hit batter to put two on for Morales. Morales then roped a single back through the infield to score Christian Walker. Matthews then smoked a long single into right-centerfield to plate Nick Ebert. USC scored the third and final run of the inning on a passed ball while Kyle Enders was batting. Enders eventually reached base after getting hit by a pitch before Bobby Haney struck out swinging.
Kentucky answered with a run in the bottom of the first inning when Glad launched a towering solo homer over the leftfield wall. After two quick outs to start the inning, Glad hammered a ball just fair down the leftfield line to cut the USC lead to 3-1.
UK would cut the lead to one run in the bottom of the second inning when Nidiffer blasted a solo home run over the left-centerfield wall. The blast was eighth of the season for Nidiffer and his seventh at Cliff Hagan Stadium this season.
The Wildcats tied the game when Black sneaked an opposite-field homer just fair down the rightfield line for his ninth homer of the season. The inning started when Nidiffer lined out to deep left-centerfield and after Black sent the homer to rightfield, Wiley singled, removing Brown from the game for Mata. Mata would end the inning when Wiley was caught stealing at second and Michael Williams struck out swinging.
Mata started the bottom of the fifth inning, giving up a single through the right side of the infield to Johnson. USC turned to the pen again, brining in Michael Roth to face Bisson, who grounded into a fielder’s choice to advance Johnson to second. Wright then singled on a slow roller back up the middle to score Johnson and give UK its first lead of the game. With Wright at first and Glad up with one out, the Gamecocks turned to the bullpen again, going with John Taylor. Taylor would do his job, getting Glad to pop out into foul territory for the second out prompting USC to make another bullpen move, the third of the inning, bringing in the lefty Steven Neff to strikeout left-handed hitting Lance Ray to end the inning.
UK tacked on a run in the seventh inning when Johnson reached base for the third time in the game, getting hit by a pitch and scoring on the error by the shortstop on a slow roller off the bat of Glad.
Kentucky scored four insurance runs in the eighth inning to give Kapteyn plenty of run support to finish off the Kentucky win. The rally started when Nidiffer walked, advancing to second when Black sacrificed back to the mound. Wiley was then hit by a pitch before the pinch hitting Farris doubled off the wall in rightfield, scoring Nidiffer. Johnson then walked to load the bases for Bisson, who singled to rightfield, scoring two. UK scored the final run on a double steal when the catcher’s throw was wild to third, allowing Johnson to take home and give UK a 9-3 lead.
Kentucky Head Coach Gary Henderson Postgame Quotes
On an impressive win against a really good team …
“Yeah, as you look at our record this year we have beat a lot of good teams, we just haven’t beat them enough. To take two out of three against the No. 4 team in the country is a good statement.”
On Alex Meyer’s pitching performance …
“He gave us a lot of things. One was seven innings of competitiveness and another as a continued message to the rest of the kids on our team that we can play with some poise when things don’t go your way. He gave us a message that you can make an adjustment within a game and can slow the game down and pitch with confidence even after giving up a three spot. Obviously, it was a tremendous boast of adrenaline to get his second wind there in the fifth inning and I think that he thought that he was done after the sixth but we convinced him that he had another inning in there and then he convinced himself that he had another inning by striking out the side. That will tell you a little bit about the power of the brain in our game. Being at 90 pitches at the end of six and then he went out and got another inning, I was really impressed with that. More importantly then that, he is impressed with it and know he knows that he can summon the strength and get it done when it needs to be done late in the game.”
On what he said to Alex after the first inning …
“We had two real messages. In the first one I said, ‘You can change who you are when the game is not going your way. You don’t have to continue to be the same guy forever. You have the power to make that adjustment. We said this was the time to grow up. I was really nice about it. Obviously, if you are watching the first inning, we got the two quick outs and then we kick a ball and then went and hit a guy and give up a hit and then hit another guy and now the game is spinning out of control because he can’t step back and take a deep breath and slow his heart rate and relax a little bit, (which are) the absolute fundamental basics of successful pitching. What I told him is that, ‘It is time to take control of what you are thinking and what you are doing.’ It is Pitching 101. I was really pleased though, he showed a little bit of poise, maturity and growth and that sends a message to not only our pitching staff but our program that you can play that way when things are not going your way. That is what I told him.”
On if he expected to keep Alex in the game so long …
“No, I would not have guessed that, especially after the first two innings because his pitch total was way up after the first two innings. But, the last four innings there was a 10, 12, 14 and a 15 and I don’t know the last number but it wasn’t too much. So the last five innings were pretty good but the first two were a little heavy.”
On getting a series win like this …
“We will find out next weekend but I would think that it would really help. We get to play Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, which is a really good thing. We have finals done and no class and you are coming off a weekend win so you are thinking that you will attack those midweek games pretty well. I think that it is huge but we will see. Of course, the team coming in is good (defending NCAA champion LSU) but it doesn’t make any difference who it is because they are all good in our league. You have to be ready every weekend but LSU will be good.”
On a performance like that from Meyer helping the bullpen …
“What did he give us? He gave us seven innings so when he is done all we have to do is go get six outs. There is a huge, huge difference then trying to get 12 outs on a Sunday. The difference between getting six outs and 12 outs on a Sunday, for most teams, is substantial. For him to be able to do that it was impressive. Not only that but how he did it.”
On welcoming LSU next weekend to Lexington with both teams fighting for a postseason berth …
“It is game on isn’t it, especially if they get beat again today. I don’t normally look at numbers but I did look at them this morning in terms of doing the math but I would think that it is us, Alabama and LSU for that final spot and Tennessee if they lose today and fall back. But I don’t know who anyone else plays except us but if we win the last two series we are going to have a pretty good shot. We are 4-9 without Meyer, during that stretch and then he came back. You know, gritty and gutty can only serve you so much and to be able to come back and get the poise and no earned runs is pretty good.”
On if it would be the same three starting pitchers next weekend …
“Yes, I don’t know about the order but the same three starters unless something happens to them midweek.”
Sophomore, RHP, Alex Meyer Postgame Quotes
On getting back on the mound …
“It was great to get back out there and I tried to keep my emotions down as much as I could. It was a big game for me and it feels like a whole new season for me to get back out there and get a win against a very, very good team like that. It means a lot to us and hopefully we can keep it rolling into the next weekend.”
On if he was expecting to go that long today …
“Not really, because even when I am healthy I sometimes struggle going that long. I just tried to keep going at it because after two innings I was up to 48 pitches but I found a groove and got some rhythm going and felt good from there.”
On if he felt much fatigue …
“I really didn’t feel much fatigue, today. I got a good night’s sleep last night and when they came in to take batting practice, I got to sleep in a little bit. I guess that helped a little bit but I didn’t really feel too much of anything. I felt normal.”
On what settled him down after the first few innings …
“Coach Henderson and I had a talk between innings and he said, ‘We got this. We know what we are doing against these guys and know how to pitch to them.’ I just had to settle down and do it. I went out there and did it and executed and he was right.”
On what this series win means for Kentucky …
“It shows the heart that we have as a team. We are such a tight group and everybody loves each other on this team and enjoys being around each other and winning. We showed that we can do it and just beat the top team in the conference. To go out there and get a win like that should show us that we can beat anybody. We should have taken all three of those games but we got away with two. It was a great weekend by us.”
On what he can use from this performance in the final two weekends of the regular season …
“I just have to relax a little bit and have faith in my team. I had a feeling that we were going to have a good day offensively, and we did. It really allowed me to settle down and relax.”