Shelby Walk-Off HR Lifts Baseball to Win
LEXINGTON – John Shelby launched the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th inning over the wall in left-center field to give No. 21 Kentucky a dramatic 10-9 victory over Southeastern Conference front-runner South Carolina on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The game looked to be over well before Shelby’s heroics as UK held a commanding 9-2 lead when starting pitcher Aaron Tennyson turned the ball over with one out in the eighth. However, the Wildcat bullpen allowed six hits and seven Gamecocks crossed the plate to tie it.
Chris Rusin became the fifth UK pitcher of the inning when he entered a tie game with two outs. He promptly got Reese Havens to strikeout and followed that with three perfect innings, retiring all 10 men he faced to improve to 4-0 on the year. It was just the second appearance in conference play for Rusin, a true freshman.
The home run by Shelby allowed the Wildcats to escape a second consecutive blown lead on a Friday night. Last week, UK lost a 9-4 lead in the ninth at Arkansas and dropped a 10-9 decision.
With the win, Kentucky (28-10, 9-7 SEC) became the first team to beat seventh-ranked South Carolina (30-9, 11-5 SEC) on a Friday night this year. The Wildcats go for the series victory on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and will send senior lefty Craig Snipp (4-3, 3.03) to the hill. The Gamecocks counter with southpaw Forrest Beverly (5-2, 5.10).
Kentucky built an early lead the same way it won the game, with home runs. Collin Cowgill blasted his ninth of the year in the first for a 1-0 UK lead and Sean Coughlin hit a mammoth shot in the third that made it 4-0. It was the ninth homer of the year for each.
The Wildcats added two runs in the fifth, one in the sixth and two more in the seventh to stretch their lead to 9-2. It could have been worse as Kentucky stranded 11 runners in the ballgame.
Meanwhile, USC could only tag Tennyson for single runs in the third and fourth. The senior from Milan, Mich., was brilliant, allowing only three runs on six hits to the conference’s top hitting team, but earned his fifth straight no-decision.
But the star of the game was Shelby, who went 3-for-3 with an RBI single, a double and the game-winning home run. For good measure, he added a pair of sacrifice bunts that helped the Wildcats score in both the fifth and seventh innings.
Kentucky had a chance to end it in the ninth, loading the bases against reliever Wynn Pelzer. Shelby had walked to lead off the inning, but was caught stealing for the second out. Ryan Wilkes then singled and Shaun Lehmann was hit by a pitch. DeJesus drew a walk to bring up Cowgill, who struck out to end the inning.
Pelzer was charged with the loss, his first this year as he fell to 3-1 after allowing one run on two hits. Shelby single-handedly snapped Pelzer’s 19-inning shutout streak in SEC play.
The game was delayed for one hour by heavy rain in the area and did not finish until well past 11 p.m.