Brian Spear’s bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 10th inning scored Keenan Wiley with the game-winning run, giving the 17th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats a thrilling 3-2 win over No. 24 Florida, securing the series victory over the Gators, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
With the game on the line in the bottom of the 10th, Kentucky needed a run to claim a win and avoid the much-dreaded tie. Due to Southeastern Conference travel regulations and the travel plans of Florida, no new inning could start after 4 p.m. ET. With the game tied after the ninth inning, the teams started the 10th and decisive inning as the clock read 3:58 p.m. ET.
After Scott Green got UK through the top of the 10th unscathed, Kentucky got a clutch leadoff double from Wiley, whose blooper fell out of the glove of Florida left-fielder Avery Barnes as he laid out to make the play. Wiley legged it out and All-American centerfielder Collin Cowgill laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Wiley to third, narrowly missing the tag as catcher Hampton Tignor attempted to get the lead runner. After intentionally walking Sawyer Carroll to load the bases, UK’s single-season record holder for walks in a season, Spear came to the plate. Spear, who drew 53 walks in 2007, took the first strike and then watched as freshman flame-throwing Tommy Toledo issued four consecutive balls to force home Wiley and give Kentucky the series-clinching victory.
The win gives Kentucky (30-9, 9-9 SEC) 30 wins for the third-consecutive year, a feat only accomplished one other time in the 103-year history of the program. Keith Madison’s 1991-94 clubs totaled 30 or more wins for four straight years.
Cowgill had another monster day at the plate and in the field, going 2-for-4 with a home run and an RBI. Cowgill made an extra-base and run-saving snag while colliding with the outfield fence in left-centerfield early in the game. Cowgill was retired only twice during the weekend, reaching base safely in 12-of-14 appearances at the plate. During the weekend, Cowgill went 5-for-8 (reaching on one error), scoring seven of UK’s 21 runs, ripping a double and a home run, one RBI, drawing four walks and two hit by pitches, laying down a sacrifice bunt and stealing a base. During UK’s 4-1 week, Cowgill batted .600 (9-for-15) with 11 runs scored, a double and three home runs, driving in six RBI.
On the season, Cowgill has hit for a .399 average, with 57 runs scored, 57 hits, ripping 11 doubles, two triples, 15 home runs, 45 RBI, 32 walks, as well as stealing 16-of-19 bases. Carroll has hit for an SEC-leading .465 average, with 14 doubles, one triple, 12 home runs and 56 RBI, drawing 27 walks to just 16 strikeouts and swiping 7-of-7 bases.
Wiley was the sparkplug in the Wildcat offense again on Sunday, registering a 3-for-5, two run day at the plate while hitting atop the UK lineup. Senior Ryan Wilkes was the only other UK player to chart a hit, going 1-for-3.
UK junior right-hander Scott Green (4-2) notched the win, tossing 1 2/3 innings without allowing a hit.
The UK bullpen was perfect, as Andrew Albers and Brock Baber set things up for Green, with Albers going one hitless inning and Baber getting two outs without allowing a hit. Starter Greg Dombrowski was nearly perfect as well, allowing a lone blemish, coming as a two-run home run from Matt den Dekker. Dombrowski worked 6 2/3 innings, gave up seven hits and struck out seven – one shy of his career high. UK’s career record holder for winning percentage, Dombrowski issued his first walk in 16 innings (4/6, vs. Miss. St.), an intentional pass.
Toledo took the loss, working 2 1/3 innings in relief of starter Stephen Locke, allowing just one hit and one run, walking three and striking out one. Locke toiled 6 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and two runs, working an excellent changeup for eight strikeouts.
Kentucky got on the board in the first inning, taking a 1-0 lead. Cowgill followed a Wiley strikeout, ripping his 15th homer of the year over the leftfield fence.
Florida threatened in the second inning, getting a leadoff hit from Josh Adams. After Dombrowski got Jon Townsend swinging, Bryson Barber ripped a hard ball into the left-centerfield gap. Cowgill gave chase, slamming into the outfield fence while making the spectacular grab, robbing Barber of extra bases with a runner on base.
Kentucky got another run in the third, as Wiley led off with a single to right field, stealing second on a botched pickoff attempt and moving to third on a wild pitch. Spear scored him with a sacrifice fly, his third of the year.
Florida tied the game up at 2-2 in the sixth, taking advantage of the one mistake Dombrowski made during his nearly seven innings. After Barnes led off with a single through the right side, den Dekker took a 1-1 offering from Dombrowski lined over the right-field fence.
Kentucky returns to action on Tuesday, traveling to state rival Louisville for the mid-week tilt with the Cardinals. First pitch at UL’s Jim Patterson Stadium, an artificial playing surface, is set for 6 p.m. ET.