AUBURN, Ala. – After watching a seven-run lead evaporate in the late innings, the No. 2 Kentucky baseball team got timely pitching and key defensive plays late in the game, holding on and secure a series-salvaging win, 9-8, over the Auburn Tigers, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in front of 2,030 fans at Plainsman Park.
Kentucky (20-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) owned a seven-run lead entering the seventh inning, but saw the Tigers put up five runs in the seventh and one run in the eighth to make the conclusion of the game dramatic. With the win, UK continues its streak of not getting swept in an SEC series since 2005, one of only two league schools to do so.
UK got multi-hit games from five Wildcats, including Collin Cowgill, Sawyer Carroll, Chris McClendon, Ryan Wilkes and Chris Wade. Cowgill provided the highlight in the eighth inning, laying out to make a extra-base saving grab in centerfield, ending the frame that saw the game tying run on base.
Howe added a team-best two RBI, drawing a walk and getting hit by a pitch as part of a 1-for-3 day. Carroll and Marcus Nidiffer added doubles for a Wildcat offense that racked up 13 hits.
On the mound, UK got another steady pitching performance from the school-record holder for career winning percentage, Greg Dombrowski, who worked 4 1/3 innings, allowing two runs and striking out five. James Paxton made things interesting, getting shelled for five runs on seven hits in just 2 1/3 innings. Brock Baber picked up the win, working the final 2 1/3 drama-filled innings, allowing one unearned run.
Auburn ace right-hander Luke Greinke, the 2007 Baseball America Summer Player of the Year, took the loss, working three innings and fiving up five runs and six hits. Michael Hurst, Evan Crawford, Bradley Hendrix, Taylor Thompson and Bryan Woodall combined to finish out the contest for the Tigers.
Kentucky returns to action on Tuesday, facing off with Xavier at Cliff Hagan Stadium. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. ET.
Kentucky got on the board first in the top of the first, beginning with a Cowgill single off into left field. After Spear drew a walk, Carroll scored Cowgill with a double down the left-field line. McClendon followed, ripping a single up the middle, scoring Spear. Wilkes ended the UK threat, promptly hitting into a double play.
Auburn answered in its half of the first, plating two runs on four hits. Dombrowski walked the first batter of the game, Trent Mummey, who after several attempted pickoffs at first from Dombrowski, attempted to steal second. With Justin Hargett swinging at the third strike and Mummey moving from second, Marcus Nidiffer threw out Mummey to complete the strike-out double play. Auburn’s slugging right-fielder Mike Bianucci got the Tigers on the board with a no-doubt shot over the 30-foot monster in left field, his fourth homer of the year. First baseman Hunter Morris notched an infield single – off the glove of Spear – and Brian Fletcher followed with a single of his own through the right side. Designated hitter Kevin Patterson scored Morris with a double down the left-field line, making it 2-2. With runners on second and third, Patterson went in motion at third, attempting to beat the pitch from Dombrowski to the plate. He was not close, as the pitch arrived to Nidiffer, in time to tag Patterson and get the Wildcats out of the inning.
UK followed in its half of the second, as Howe led off getting hit by his SEC-leading 12th pitch of the year. Wade sacrificed Howe to second and Nidiffer made a productive out, moving Howe to third with a deep fly out. Keenan Wiley followed ripping a hard-hit single through the right side, scoring Howe to give UK a 3-2 lead.
Continuing to score runs in each inning off Greinke, UK added two runs on one hit and two Tiger errors. After McClendon grounded out to begin the inning, Wilkes laid down a beautiful bunt single down the third base line. Howe followed ripping a long fly ball into the left-centerfield gap, with Mummey tracking deep on the warning track. While attempting to glove the ball, Mummey dropped the ball, allowing Wilkes and Howe to move into scoring position. After Wade drew a walk to load the bases, Nidiffer ripped a groundball to Matt Hall, the Tiger shortstop, allowing Wilkes to trot home. Hall fired a strike to second to get Wade out at second but Hargett’s throw to first sailed wide, allowing Howe to come all the way around for the second run of the inning, giving UK a 5-2 lead.
Again, UK added two runs in its next inning, beginning with three consecutive singles from Carroll, McClendon, and Wilkes. Howe notched an RBI, scoring Carroll with a bases-loaded walk. Wade delivered the second run of the inning, booting a single through the left side, scoring McClendon. With Wilkes motoring around third, he attempted to score, but Auburn left-fielder Brian Fletcher fired a strike to the plate, nailing Wilkes for the third out of the inning with UK leading 7-2.
After being held without a run in the fifth inning, UK added two runs to its lead in the sixth, taking a 9-2 advantage. Spear led off with a grounder to the third baseman, who threw a ball in the dirt that Morris could not hold at first base. Carroll drew a walk and McClendon sacrificed both runners into scoring position. Wilkes drove in the first run, hanging a sacrifice fly into left field, scoring Spear for his second run of the game. With Carroll on second, Howe ripped an RBI single through the left side. Carroll came speeding home, just narrowly beating the relay throw home for a 9-2 lead. In his first four at bats, Howe reached base safely four times.
The Tigers narrowed the UK lead to 9-7 in the seventh, as Hargett led off with a single to left field and Morris reached on a one-out single to right field. Fletcher followed, ripping a three-run home run – his first of the year – over the UK bullpen deep in right-centerfield. After a groundout, David Cunningham ripped a wicked-hop grounder at Wade at shortstop, who booted the ball for a fielding error. Catcher Tony Caldwell followed with a single through the left side, bringing up shortstop Matt Hall. Hall worked an extensive at bat, belting a triple off the wall in left-centerfield, just out of reach of a hard-charging Cowgill, clearing the bases of two runners. After allowing five runs in the seventh inning to let Auburn back in the game, Paxton’s day was done, bringing in stopper Brock Baber. After Baber walked one runner to first, he got Hargett to hit a hard line-drive to a sprinting Cowgill in center, who laid out to snag the ball and save the game-tying runs from scoring.
Auburn continued to put the pressure on UK in the eight inning, plating one run to cut the lead to 9-8. Bianucci reached on a fielding error, charged to Wade, coming around to score on a sacrifice fly from Fletcher.