LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 18th-ranked Kentucky gymnastics team produced a dramatic late rally to spark a wild finish inside Memorial Coliseum on Friday.
The Wildcats (4-3-1, 2-2-1 SEC) tied the Bulldogs (5-4-1, 3-0-1 SEC) as both teams totaled scores of 195.825 in an exciting evening of action that reached a fever pitch with the final event of the night. Kentucky’s score was a season-high.
Audrey Harrison won the individual all-around title for the second straight week with a career-high 39.3. The junior also took the floor exercise crown after posting a 9.9 to help spark the improbable comeback.
The Knoxville, Tenn., native now has eight individual event honors this season and 15 in her career. Her four all-around wins in 2013 have all come against Southeastern Conference competition.
Kentucky trailed 146.7-147.525 heading into the final rotation, but UK rallied on floor while taking advantage of Georgia miscues on balance beam.
The Wildcats outscored Georgia 49.125-48.3 on the final rotation to claw back into the meet, and pull off one of the most impressive regular season conference dual meet results in school history.
The final four Wildcats to take the floor reeled off as many scores above 9.8, with a career-high-tying 9.9 for Harrison.
Kayla Hartley's 9.825 to anchor the evening would seal the tie, but not without controversy or confusion. Hartley completed a strong routine nailing her final tumbling pass to send the 2,501 Wildcats fans in attendance into frenzy.
The original judges' score, however, would disappoint the Big Blue Nation members ready to launch into an uproar upon the anticipated confirmation of an improbable comeback.
Hartley's initial score warranted an official inquiry, which resulted in a .025 increase giving the Wildcats the more favorable result.
“We’re excited, no doubt about it,” Garrison said. “But what I told the athletes was we’ve closed the gap, but we haven’t closed it entirely. We’ve made some strides. We’re doing a lot of the big things well, but we’re doing a lot of the little things not so well.
“To go out with a tie is great for our program, but our expectation level is higher than a 195.825. We think we can score better than that. We’ll smile a little bit about it tonight, it’s a 195.825 and a tie of the No. 6 team in the country, but it’s just that, a 195.825. We’re capable of 196-plus and that’s where we’re headed.”
The Wildcats began the meet on vault with season-high 9.825s from Harrison and freshman Jill Chappel. Holly Cunningham stuck her landing for a 9.8. Shelby Hilton anchored vault for the second consecutive meet and she continued to show her embrace of the new role as she went 9.825, topping 9.8 for the second time in as many weeks.
The Wildcats totaled 48.925 to open the action, but Georgia was great on uneven bars taking a .375 lead into the second act.
Knowing they were in for an uphill battle the Wildcats responded.
Hilton concluded her solid evening on bars hitting big with a career-high tying 9.825 to help build some steam. Harrison went 9.8, and Alexis Gross finished it off with a 9.875 to give Kentucky a season-high 49.025 bars team score.
Entering the penultimate stanza trailing by .25, the Wildcats battled on beam to keep themselves in the meet. Shannon Mitchell kept her wits about her throughout her routine and nailed her dismount for a 9.75. Soon after, Harrison placed herself in prime position for the all-around with a 9.775, and Gross capped it with a 9.75.
The Wildcats would show that fight and make good on it when the action shifted to floor. The hosts would catch a few breaks from Georgia on beam as well.
Kentucky went to a new lineup to close the evening, with freshman Tiara Phipps shifting seamlessly into the leadoff role earning a season-high tying 9.775.
With Georgia struggling to close out the night, Kentucky saw an opening a seized it.
When the Wildcats had just four gymnasts remaining, Kenzie Hedges sparked a rally with a 9.8, followed by a career-best matching 9.825 by Mitchell.
With the prize – both team and individual -- in sight, Harrison delivered for the second week in a row. By the time all the action, but one routine remained, the Memorial Coliseum faithful had taken notice that an unprecedented upset was in the making. It all came down to the crowd-favorite Hartley.
The Versailles, Ky., native delivered, but the judges failed to recognize.
For the Wildcats fans in the stands it looked as though Georgia would follow last week’s win over two-time defending national champions Alabama with another tally in the victory column.
It was a shame that so many great supporters went home without the result they believed their team deserved, but after many minutes of protest, inquiry and deliberation justice was served.
The result was Kentucky’s first tie with an opposing squad since the 2004 SEC Championships, and Kentucky had never before tied in a dual meet.
The Wildcats next host SEC newcomers Missouri on Friday in Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m.
The Missouri showdown will be the Pink Meet with fans receiving $1 admission for wearing pink. All ticket proceeds benefit breast cancer research, education and treatment at the Markey Cancer Center. Pink shirts will be on sale for $10 with proceeds benefitting the Markey Cancer Center.