LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Sawyer Carroll tallied a career-high five RBI and Collin Cowgill reached base 5-of-5 times, as the No. 17 Kentucky baseball team erased a 7-6 Florida lead with five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, holding on to secure a 11-7 series-opening victory over the 24th-ranked Gators, on a gorgeous Friday evening in front of 3,036 fans at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Down 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth inning and needing a rally, Kentucky got what it needed from its two National Player of the Year candidates, Carroll and Cowgill. After Keenan Wiley singled with one out, Cowgill tallied his second hit of the night, a well struck line-drive into left field. Carroll came to the plate, looking to advance the runners and avoid the double play. The senior delivered, belting a 1-1 offering from Stephen Locke – the pitcher slated to start Saturday’s game for UF – deep into the left-centerfield gap, bouncing off the double off the base of the wall, allowing Wiley to score the game-tying run. With Carroll and Cowgill in scoring position, Florida issued an intentional walk to Brian Spear. Ryan Wilkes came to the plate, looking for his fourth hit of the game, instead ripping a hard grounder at Florida third baseman Jon Townsend, who bobbled the ball as he attempted to make the throw, allowing Cowgill to score the go-ahead run. Tyler Howe notched an RBI groundout, scoring Carroll and Chris Wade plated Wilkes and Spear with a single up the middle, for the final margin.
Carroll finished the game 3-for-5 with his 12th home run of the season, coming as a three-run job in the first inning. Carroll’s five RBI marks a career best, as the 6-foot-4, 215-pound slugger finishes the game with a staggering .467 average on the year, adding 14 doubles and 55 RBI in just 37 games this season.
Cowgill finished 2-for-2 with three runs scored, two walks and a hit-by-pitch. On the year, Cowgill has hit for a .394 average, with 10 doubles, 14 home runs and 44 RBI, swiping 16-of-19 bases.
Senior southpaw Andrew Albers (6-1) notched the win, tossing four excellent innings in relief of starter Chris Rusin. Albers worked four innings, allowing two hits, two runs – one earned – striking out three. Rusin worked 4 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits and five runs. Brock Baber was the only other UK reliever to see action, getting two pressure-packed outs in the fifth inning.
Locke took the loss, dropping to 2-2 on the year after allowing four hits and five runs in one inning. UF starter Billy Bullock gave up six runs on five hits in four innings, walking five UK hitters.
Kentucky (29-8, 8-8 Southeastern Conference) will send sophomore southpaw James Paxton to the hill on Saturday for his first career SEC start. With Locke pitching in relief Friday night, the Florida rotation will be mixed up, with the slated Sunday starter, Patrick Keating, getting the starting nod on Saturday.
First pitch on Saturday is set for 7 p.m. ET and fans can catch the action live on the Big Blue Sports Network (television) with Dick Gabriel, Doug Flynn and Ryan Lemond calling the game. Fans can see the game on C-WKYT (Insight-Lexington channel 5) or on FSN South.
The game can also be heard live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price calling the action. In Lexington the game can be heard on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.
Wilkes and Wiley played a vital role in Kentucky’s 12-hit, six-walk offensive performance, as Wiley totaled two hits and Wilkes notched his third three-hit performance of the year. Wiley extended his hit streak to nine games with his 2-for-4 day, while Carroll continued his team-best 11 game streak.
Kentucky got on the board at its first opportunity, as Wiley led off with a single to right field, moving to second on a wild pitch. Cowgill followed with a five-pitch walk and Carroll emptied the bases with his 12th home run of the season, a longball over the right-centerfield fence, landing in between the party deck and the 30-foot monster in right field.
The Wildcats added a run to its lead, extending a 4-0 advantage after two innings. Marcus Nidiffer led off with a walk and Chris Bisson, attempting to lay down a sacrifice bunt, reached after Townsend misfired on his throw. After Cowgill walked to load the bases, Carroll hung up a sacrifice fly into left field, scoring Nidiffer.
In the third, UK extended its lead to 5-0, as Wilkes notched his second single through the left side in as many at bats. Howe ripped a hard double down the right-field line, moving Wilkes to third. Nidiffer lofted a one-out sacrifice fly ball into centerfield, scoring Wilkes.
Kentucky got out of two bases loaded jams, escaping in the second inning and again in the fourth inning, getting an unconventional 5-2-3 double play in the fourth to get out of the frame unscathed. In the second, Rusin allowed three back-to-back singles with one out, getting a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning.
UK added another run in the fourth inning, getting a one-out hit-by-pitch from Cowgill, who swiped second for his 16th stolen bag of the year. Carroll made a productive out, grounding out to second, allowing Cowgill to motor to third. With Wilkes at the plate, Bullock let loose a wild pitch, allowing Cowgill to slide into home.
Florida narrowed the UK lead to 6-5 with five runs on four hits and a UK error in the fifth inning. Avery Barnes singled to third base, moving to second after Rusin misfired on a pickoff attempt. Townsend, a native of London, Ky., doubled down the line to score Barnes. Cole Figureroa laid down a perfectly placed bunt single and Josh Adams loaded the bases with a walk. Matt den Dekker scored one after Rusin beaned him with a pitch and Brandon McArthur scored two more with a single into right-center. Pinch hitter Clayton Pasani hung a sacrifice fly to score den Dekker.
Florida took the lead with two runs in the seventh, taking a 7-6 lead. After Albers got Adams swinging, Dustin Bamberg ripped a high-hopper to freshman Chris Bisson, playing third. Bisson allowed the ball to skip off his glove for the error. The next batter, den Dekker followed, ripping a no-doubt shot over the deck in right-centerfield for his sixth homer of the season.