Baseball Holds off Ball State to Advance
LEXINGTON – Kentucky exploded for nine runs in the first four innings and the Wildcats staved off a late rally to score a 12-9 win over Ball State in the NCAA Tournament at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Wildcats, who improve to 44-16 with the victory, advance to play the College of Charleston at 7 p.m. Sunday. Kentucky must defeat the Cougars twice in order to capture the Lexington regional. The Wildcats have now won back-to-back NCAA Tournament games for the first time since 1988.
Antone DeJesus and John Shelby combined for six RBI against the Cardinals, who made a late-game charge with four runs in the eighth inning, but were shutdown by closer Andrew Albers. With his seventh save, Albers moved into a tie for second place in school single-season history.
Albers earned his seventh save of the season with 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Matt Robinson. Robinson, who entered the game in the second inning for starter Tommy Warner, picked up the win to improve to 6-1. He allowed five runs on 10 hits while striking out seven batters.
Kentucky carried its offensive prowess from Saturday’s win over Notre Dame into the early innings Sunday. With two outs, Sean Coughlin and Ryan Strieby each walked before Michael Bertram and Shelby followed with back-to-back singles to make it 2-0.
After Ball State got on the board with a run in the bottom half of the first, Kentucky responded with two more runs in the second. DeJesus reached on a fielder’s choice and Collin Cowgill followed with a single. Coughlin’s double scored the two Wildcat runners to give UK a 4-1 advantage.
Ball State answered by tying the score in the bottom of the second. C.J. Webb and Kyle Dyert singled to start the inning and Chris Pestle reached on an error to load the bases. Designated hitter Matt Gard grounded out to second base to score Webb before leadoff batter Eric Earnhart’s sacrifice fly scored Dygert. Matt Singleton stroked a single through the right side to score Pestle and knot the score at 4-4.
Bertram and Shelby continued Kentucky’s hot hitting with a pair of hits to open the third inning. After a sacrifice bunt by designated hitter Billy Grace, Wilkes’ two-run double plated the pair as UK took the lead for good. DeJesus brough Wilkes in with a sac fly for one of his three RBIs.
The Cardinals added a single run in their half of the third inning, but Shelby launched a towering two-run home run to dead center field in the fourth to make it 9-4. The round-tripper scored Coughlin scored on the blast after opening the inning with a single. The home run was Shelby’s 18th of the season.
Robinson continued to hold Ball State at bay through the game’s middle innings and Kentucky again scored two runs in the top of the seventh inning. Wilkes singled to right center field with two outs and Shaun Lehmann blasted a triple down the left-field line to drive him in. Lehmann scored on a single by DeJesus.
Ball State rallied in the eighth and brought the go-ahead run to the plate, but Albers got Kyle Dygert to pop out to end the threat. Dygert started the rally with a single, the first of five for the Cardinals in the inning. Of Ball State’s 16 hits, 14 were singles.
Kentucky added an insurance run in the ninth as DeJesus’ 16th double of the season drove in pinch runner Michael Brown for the final 12-9 margin.