Marcus Nidiffer and Chris McClendon tallied three hits each, as the No. 10 Kentucky baseball team utilized seven runs over its final four innings, erasing a 6-2 Mississippi State lead, securing the series win with a 9-8 victory over the Bulldogs at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (25-5, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) got a two-run home run from Nidiffer in the sixth inning, part of a four-run frame that saw UK climb from a 6-3 deficit to a 7-6 lead. The Wildcat catcher finished the game 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. McClendon, UK’s everyday third baseman, finished 3-for-5 with a critical RBI late in the game.
The highlight that emerged from the week was the incredibly hot bat All-American centerfielder Collin Cowgill has been swinging during his nine-game hit streak. Cowgill finished 1-for-1 with a single and three walks in the game, scoring three times. That marks the second game of the series that MSU was not able to get Cowgill out, as the junior went 2-for-2 with three walks in game one. In the three-game set, MSU only got Cowgill out three times in 16 at bats, as the Lexington native went 6-for-9 with six runs scored, two homers, five RBI, six walks, one hit by pitch and one stolen base during the series. During his hit streak, Cowgill has batted .500 (17-for-34) with 15 runs scored, one double, six home runs, 12 RBI, eight walks, three hit by pitches and a steal. On the season, Cowgill has batted for a .407 average, ripping 10 doubles, two triples, 12 homers, 38 RBI, 24 walks and 14 stolen bases. During UK’s 3-1 week, Cowgill hit .692 (9-for-13) with nine runs, four homers, seven RBI and six walks.
For the second consecutive weekend, UK had a player hit three home runs in one game off its pitching staff, as MSU third baseman Connor Powers launched three homers, part of a 4-for-4, four RBI day to lead the Bulldogs. Last weekend, South Carolina All-American third baseman James Darnell belted three homers in a Saturday win over UK.
UK starter Greg Dombrowski lasted only 4 2/3 innings, allowing seven hits and five runs. James Paxton performed well at times in relief, working 3 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and two runs. Andrew Albers relieved Paxton, allowing two hits and one run without getting an out. Aaron Lovett and Tyler Howe combined to close out the game, with Lovett get the first pressure-packed two outs in the ninth and Howe picking up his second save of the season, getting the final out of the game. Paxton got the win, improving to 3-0 on the season.
MSU starter Ricky Bowen worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing 10 hits, six runs – four earned – striking out three. Michael Busby took the loss, working 2 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and the three deciding runs.
Kentucky returns to action on Tuesday with a televised game against in-state rival Louisville. First pitch at Cliff Hagan Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen live on the Big Blue Sports Network, with Dick Gabriel, Doug Flynn and Ryan Lemond calling the action.
After Wiley and Wilkes made two quick outs with a tie game in the bottom of the eighth, Cowgill again came through with some clutch hitting, working a 3-1 count into a two-out walk, his third of the game. Sawyer Carroll extended his hit streak to four games with a single into centerfield. With McClendon at the plate and facing a 3-2 count, the junior lofted a high fly ball, tailing away from the left fielder Jason Nappi. The ball bounced off his glove down the line in left, allowing Cowgill and Carroll to score the go-ahead runs.
Albers came on in the ninth, but promptly walked the leadoff hitter, Russ Sneed. Nick Hardy got a pinch hit single off the wall in right field, moving Sneed to third. Moore got a clutch RBI single to score Sneed putting the game-tying run on second with no out. Lovett relieved Albers, getting Hogue and Collins to fly out without allowing Hard to score from third. Needing just one out, associate head coach Gary Henderson called for starting designated hitter, Howe, who picked up his second save of the season, getting Nappi, the victim of the game-losing error in left field to pop up to Wilkes, charging in to make the play behind first base.
MSU (14-17, 3-9 SEC) struck first for three runs in the first inning, utilizing three hits to take a 3-0 lead. Grant Hogue led off with a first-pitch double down the left-field line, moving to third on a groundout from Ryan Collins. Jason Nappi scored Hogue with a hard-hit single over McClendon’s head, leaping high in the air at third base, for an RBI single. Powers made the game 3-0 early with a two-run homer over the left-centerfield wall, his seventh of the year.
In one of the strangest pieces of umpiring possible, UK threatened with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom half of the first inning. With Brian Spear at the plate and a 3-2 count, Spear was plunked on the hand by a pitch, driving in what appeared to be the first run of the game. Home plate umpire Rick Darby ruled initially that Spear struck out looking, but after Spear and UK head coach John Cohen showed the ball mark on Spear’s hand, Darby awarded the base and the subsequent run. The ruling immediately insighted MSU head coach Ron Polk in an argument, with Darby throwing him out for the third time in three games. After the argument and the ejection, Darby seemed disoriented, suddenly calling Spear out on the pitch that plunked him on the hand. Darby’s sudden change of mind insighted Cohen into an argument, provoking an impassioned ejection of the UK coach. So far in three games this weekend and through 18 ½ innings, the weekend umpire crew, consisting of Darby, A.J. Lostaglio and Randy Watkins ejected four coaches.
In the second inning, UK catcher Marcus Nidiffer ripped a one-out triple down the right-field line, narrowly missing the tag from Powers, MSU’s third baseman. Keenan Wiley scored Nidiffer with a high-bouncing groundout to the second baseman.
UK continued to narrow the MSU lead in the third, pushing across one run after Cowgill got hit by a pitch to lead off, coming around to score after Brian Spear hit into a fielders choice.
Entering the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead, MSU erupted for three runs in the fifth inning, taking a 6-2 lead. Tyler Moore led off with a home run, the first of three allowed in the inning. After Hogue grounded out, Collins homered to right-centerfield. Paxton came on in relief of Dombrowski and Powers belted his second bomb of the day, this one to right field.
The Wildcats immediately answered with a run in the fifth, beginning again when Cowgill led off the frame with a single. Carroll hung a fly ball into centerfield and Cowgill, making a move not many players or teams in the nation would try, tagged up from first and took second, on a medium-range fly ball to center. After Cowgill moved to third on a passed all, Spear scored him with an infield single.
Trailing 6-3 entering the sixth inning, UK got four runs to take a 7-6 lead. Wade began the inning, hitting an awkward bouncing grounder to Moore at first base, who booted the ball for a fielding error. With Wade on first, Nidiffer launched a first-pitch homer over the left-field fence. Keenan Wiley followed with a bunt single and Wilkes moved him into scoring position with a sacrifice. Again, Cowgill had an excellent plate appearance, working a full count for a walk. McClendon singled into right field but Collins, MSU’s right fielder, booted the ball, allowing Wiley and Cowgill to come around to score, with Cowgill narrowly sliding in the backdoor to avoid the tag and give UK a 7-6 advantage.
Mississippi State tied the game up again in the eighth inning, getting a solo home run from Powers over the right-field fence.