No. 19 UK Claims SEC Tournament Opener
HOOVER, Ala. -- Making his first career start senior Aaron Lovett tossed a complete-game and senior outfielder Sawyer Carroll set the school record for RBI in a season, as the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats pounded No. 29 Alabama 9-3, in front of 11,967 fans during the first round of the 2008 Southeastern Conference Tournament at Regions Park.
Lovett had a career day, going nine complete innings, allowing eight hits, three runs and striking out a career-best 12. Lovett, a native of Brownstown, Ill., entered the game with career highs of 5.2 innings against Tennessee and five strikeouts vs. Murray State in 2007. Lovett picked up the win (5-1), dropping his ERA to 4.15 in 52 innings on the year, striking out 40.
Carroll entered the tournament tied with 2006 SEC Player of the Year Ryan Strieby for the all-time season record for RBI in a season, 77. With a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, Carroll bumped his total up to 78. Carroll finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored, adding his 20th double of the season. On the year, Carroll, who extended his hit streak to a team-best 10 games, has hit for an SEC-high .418 average.
In a game that started at 10:50 p.m. and ended at 1:54 a.m. local time, Kentucky (42-15) won its first SEC Tournament contest since 2000. UK’s win was just its third win in the past 14 contests in the tournament. UK got the clutch hit in the game as each of its first five runs came with two out.
UK will face eighth-seeded Ole Miss, who defeated No. 1 seed Georgia on Wednesday, in the final game of the day Thursday, scheduled for a 9 p.m. ET start. UK will send sophomore James Paxton (4-2, 2.57 ERA) to the hill to face Ole Miss on Thursday, just six days after going the distance in his first career complete-game shutout of the Rebels. UK won the regular-season finale vs. Ole Miss last weekend, claiming wins in the first two games, before dropping the final game in 11 innings.
Fans in Lexington can see the Thursday game live on Insight-Lexington channel 17. The Big Blue Sports Network (radio) will also broadcast the game, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price calling the action. In Lexington, the can be found on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.
Chris McClendon tallied a club-high three RBI with a 2-for-3 day. Bryan Rose, Collin Cowgill, Brian Spear and Chris Wade all contributed hits.
Alabama starter Jimmy Nelson took the loss (3-3) in 4.2 innings, allowing five hits and five runs – three earned – striking out five. Will Stroup, Josh Copeland and Casey Kebodeaux finished off the game for the Crimson Tide, who got hits from all but one member of the starting lineup.
Alabama struck first in the top of the first inning, as the Crimson Tide totaled four consecutive singles to start the game. Josh Rutledge led off with a single up the middle and Ross Wilson followed with a rip through the left side. Alex Avila notched his team-high 58th RBI with a single into center and Brandon May ripped an RBI single through the left side.
The Wildcats immediately answered in its half of the first, as Rose ripped a one-out single through the right side. Carroll followed, extending his hit streak to a team-high 10 games, with a single up the middle. After both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, McClendon hit a high-hopping grounder at Rutledge, UA’s shortstop. Rutledge’s throw to first was low and pulled first baseman Matt Bentley off the bag, allowing Rose and Carroll to score.
Alabama responded in the top of the second, as Tyler Odle lofted a no-doubt home run over the right-field fence, his third of the year, giving UA a 3-2 lead.
Kentucky evened up the game in the fourth, getting a lead-off walk from McClendon to start the frame. Wilkes hit a hopper in the middle of the infield, with McClendon out of the play and Wilkes reaching via a fielder’s choice. Spear scored Wilkes with a double into the left-centerfield gap, his 17th double of the year.
The Wildcats took a two-run lead with a two-out rally in the fifth. After two quick outs, Carroll launched his 20th double of the year down the right-field line. Cowgill got hit by a pitch and McClendon plated the first-team All-SEC duo with a broken-bat single up the middle. Cowgill, who leads UK with 21 steals, showcased his speed, hustling all the way from first base on a routine single dribbled into centerfield.
UK added four runs in the sixth, stretching its lead to 9-3. Wade belted his SEC-high 21st double of the season to lead off, a shot that bounced off the wall in left-centerfield. After Tyler Howe drew a walk, Keenan Wiley attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt, a high-hoper hit to third. Jake Smith, the UA third baseman, fielded the ball on the run and fired an off balance throw to first base, sailing high over the bag, allowing Wade and Howe to score. After Rose drew a walk to load the bags, Carroll made history with his school-record 78th RBI, hanging a sacrifice fly into left field. Cowgill followed with a single, swiping his 21st base of the year and scoring on a single from McClendon, his third RBI of the night.