UK Wins Opener in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Behind five home runs – including two blasts from catcher Marcus Nidiffer and a grand slam from freshman shortstop Chris Wade – the No. 8 Kentucky baseball team rolled the seventh-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks 15-3, on a beautiful Friday evening in front of 5,729 fans at Sarge Frye Field.
Kentucky (22-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) notched it largest win over the tradition-rich Gamecocks in 59 total meetings in the series. UK’s 12-run win marks the largest win in the series, topping a 22-11 win in Lexington in 1995.

Nidiffer ripped his third and fourth homers of the season, part of five total homers on the day for UK, tying a season high. Wade, Collin Cowgill and Sawyer Carroll each contributed homers, with Cowgill cranking his seventh and Carroll his eighth of the year.

Every UK position starter tallied a hit, as UK rolled to 16 total hits, plating 13 unanswered runs, taking a commanding 13-0 lead into the fifth inning.

Brian Spear led the way for the Wildcats, batting 3-for-5 with three runs and an RBI. Chris McClendon, who added his fourth double of the season, finished 3-for-5 with two RBI. Carroll, Wade and Nidiffer finished with two hits apiece, with Wade totaling four RBI and Nidiffer three. Carroll extended his hit streak to a team-high eight games.

UK got a dominant pitching performance from Friday night starter Chris Rusin, who picked up his fourth win of the season. Rusin allowed only one hit through the first four innings, finishing just one out shy of his first complete game of the season. The junior southpaw worked 8 2/3 innings, striking out six and not walking a sole. Brock Baber closed out the game, getting the final out of the contest via strikeout.

South Carolina (16-7, 4-3 SEC) ace Mike Cisco got pummeled by the high-powered UK offense, lasting only three innings, giving up 12 hits and 12 runs.

For the year, UK leads the SEC in nearly every offensive category. The Wildcats are hitting for a .356 average, adding 70 doubles, seven triples, and 37 home runs. UK is averaging 10.3 runs per game, outscoring opposition 248-70. On the mound, UK ranks as the only team in the league to post a sub-3.00 ERA, earning a 2.38 ERA in 212 innings, striking out 209. Most amazingly, UK has allowed only 59 walks and eight home runs.

Kentucky and South Carolina resume the series on Saturday, with a 4 p.m. ET first pitch at Sarge Frye Field. The game can be heard on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with Neil Price and Dick Gabriel calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the action live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.

The Wildcats jumped all over the Gamecocks in the first inning, plating six runs on four hits and a walk. After Cisco got the first two hitters in the UK lineup, Spear got plunked by a pitch, his third of the year. Carroll followed, ripping a single over the shortstop’s glove and McClendon lined a single through the left side, under the shortstop’s diving glove. Senior second baseman Ryan Wilkes ripped an infield single to keep the inning alive and senior Tyler Howe worked an eight-pitch at bat into a bases-loaded walk, scoring Carroll. With the bases loaded, Wade emptied them, sending his fourth homer of the year over the left-center field wall, for his second career grand slam and UK’s second of year.

UK added another run in the second, as Cowgill got hit by a pitch with one out. Spear scored him, ripping a double down the right-field line, enabling the speedy Cowgill to score from first. After Carroll ripped a line-drive into right field that was caught by a diving Harley Lail, McClendon doubled off the wall in left-center field, scoring Spear.

Again in the third inning, UK added two more runs, beginning when Howe singled up the middle. After Wade struck out, UK’s sophomore nine-hole hitter, Marcus Nidiffer roped his third homer of the season, a line-drive shot over the left-field wall, scoring Howe and making it 10-0 UK.

Continuing to pound the Gamecocks, UK added two more runs in the fourth, courtesy of a two-run homer from Carroll, his eighth bomb of the year. Carroll scored Spear, who led off with a single up the middle.

The Wildcats tacked on runs in the fifth and sixth, courtesy of Cowgill’s seventh homer of the year in the fifth and Nidiffer second bomb of the game in the sixth.

South Carolina finally broke through to Rusin in the bottom of the fifth, plating two runs on three hits. Catcher Kyle Enders doubled to right field to lead off and Andrew Crisp followed with a double of his own, putting two runners in scoring position. Designated hitter Phil Disher scored the duo, ripping a single up the middle.

In the eighth inning, UK got another run, after Wilkes drew a leadoff walk and came around to score after Keenan Wiley hit into a fielding error, charged to USC’s second baseman.

South Carolina added a run in the bottom of the ninth, forcing Rusin from the game. Preseason All-American Justin Smoak led off with a single and after Rusin got the next two outs via strikeout, Harley Lail doubled off the left-center field fence, scoring Smoak. Baber entered, getting DeAngelo Mack to strikeout.

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