Matt Clark’s two-run home run with two outs in the top of the ninth erased a 8-7 Kentucky lead, as the streaking LSU Tigers ran its win streak up to nine games with a 9-8 win over the 16th-ranked Wildcats, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
LSU (32-16-1, 12-11-1 Southeastern Conference) handed Kentucky its first home series sweep since a setback at the hands of the Florida Gators in March of 2004. The Tigers have now claimed nine-consecutive wins, including back-to-back series sweeps over then No. 7-ranked South Carolina and No. 16 UK. LSU’s back-to-back sweeps marks the first time since the 1998 season the Tigers have accomplished such a feat.
Kentucky (34-14, 11-13 SEC) held a 8-3 lead heading into the sixth inning, before allowing six unanswered runs over the final four inning – two spots in the sixth, eighth and ninth. Of the final six runs for the Tigers, four were unearned.
Clark strolled to the plate with LSU down to its last at bat, two out in the top of the ninth and UK’s steady reliever Andrew Albers on the mound. Albers had last 2.2 innings to that point without allowing an earned run after relieving starter Greg Dombrowski. Entering that at bat, Albers, who was named the SEC Pitcher of the Week on Monday, had total a streak of 10 consecutive relief innings without allowing an earned run. Clark lofted a first-pitch offering from Albers, a hanging breaking ball over the right-field fence, scoring Helenihi, who had drawn a two out, full-count walk.
Albers suffered the loss, falling to 6-3 on the year, coming just one out shy of his fourth save of the season. LSU right-hander Daniel Bradshaw took the win, tossing 3.1 innings of scoreless relief, allowing just one hit and striking out four. For the third time in as many games, senior right-hander Jared Bradford factored into the decision, coming on in the ninth to get the final three outs and pick up the save. Bradford, who three 63 pitches in both games of the twinbill Saturday, notched a win and two saves during the weekend.
The loss, combined with the Sunday outcomes of the rest of the league, pushes UK into a tie with Tennessee (11-13) for the eighth and final spot in the SEC Tournament. UK travels to Tennessee next weekend for its final road SEC series of the season. Vanderbilt, who suffered a home series defeat at the hands of the Wildcats last weekend, wrapped up a series sweep over the Volunteers, claiming a 10-8 win Sunday. LSU moved into the lead in the SEC West after entering the weekend series in third, at the time 1.5 games back of the then-leader Ole Miss.
UK got a career performance from freshman outfielder Bryan Rose who finished a career-high 4-for-5 with a home run and a double, scoring twice. Rose was one of five Wildcats who finished with multiple hits on the day, as UK rolled to 15 hits. Sawyer Carroll, Chris McClendon, Ryan Wilkes and Chris Wade each charted two hits. Keenan Wiley hit his second career home run, a three-run shot to give UK its first lead in the fifth inning.
Dombrowski, who has not lost a starting assignment in 363 days, dating back to a loss at South Carolina on May 6, 2007, worked six innings, allowed eight hits and three earned runs, striking out three and walking one. LSU starter Jordan Brown gave up 11 hits and six runs in 4.1 innings.
Clark led LSU at the plate, getting the starting assignment for the final game in the series after not starting the first two games. Clark finished 3-for-5 with three RBI, three runs scored, lofting his team-best 17th homer of the season. Ryan Schimpf added a 2-for-4, four RBI day, while Blake Dean charted two hits and two RBI and Michael Hollander finished 3-for-5.
LSU got on the board at its first opportunity, getting a lead-off double down the left-field line from Hollander. Dean followed a Jared Mitchell groundout with a double of his own, bouncing off the glove of a diving Wiley in left field, allowing Hollander to scamper home.
Kentucky answered in its half of the first, taking a 2-1 lead with two runs on two hits. After Rose and Collin Cowgill made the first two outs via groundout, Carroll ripped his 16th double of the year down the left-field line. McClendon followed, notching a single through the right side, scoring Carroll hustling from second. The next batter, Wilkes, lofted a deep fly ball into the left-field corner. Mitchell attempted to field the ball but it bounced off his glove, allowing McClendon to score from first on the error.
LSU added a run in the third, getting a one-out hit from Hollander, who scored on a two-out double into the gap from Dean, his second two-bagger of the game.
The Tigers took a 3-2 lead with a run in the fourth as Clark led off with a double and two outs later, Schimpf singled him home with a base knock to right field.
Kentucky took the lead with two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, getting a lead-off hit from catcher Marcus Nidiffer, whose single broke a 0-for-21 slump at the plate. The next hitter, Rose, ripped a high-fly ball bouncing off the 30-foot high monster in right field, moving Nidiffer to third. Cowgill scored Nidiffer with a high-hopping single deep in the infield, a play that could not be made by the LSU left-side of the infield. Carroll added his second hit of the game, an RBI single up the middle, allowing Rose to score.
The Wildcats added to its lead with four runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 8-3 lead. Wilkes led off with an opposite-field single through the gap in the left-side of the infield, moving to third on a double from Wade, his SEC leading 19th double of the year. Wiley cleared the bags with his second career home run, a bomb into the party deck in right-centerfield. Nidiffer attempted to give UK back-to-back home runs, lofting a high fly towards Mitchell in left field. Mitchell leaped high in the air and up against the wall in left, robbing Nidiffer of a home run. Rose followed, tallying his fourth homer of the year, a line-drive blast into the deck, just high enough that centerfielder Leon Landry could not come down with the jumping homer-robbing grab.
LSU narrowed the UK lead to 8-5 with two runs in the sixth inning, courtesy of a Wildcat error. After Dombrowski got the first hitter to pop up, he induced a groundball from Clark, hit right at Spear at first base. Spear booted it for his first error of the game. UK got D.J. LeMahieu to hit into a fielders choice with Clark out on the play, what would have been the final out in the inning. Leon Landry followed with a single and Schimpf drove in LeMahieu and Landry with a double to left.
LSU added two more unearned runs in the eighth, again getting an error to help out the inning, the second of the game charged to Spear, UK’s senior first baseman. Helenihi led off the inning with a hard groundball hit right at Spear, but he could not handle it, as the ball scooted into the right-field corner, with Rose misplaying the ball and allowing Helenihi to scamper to second on a two-base error. Clark scored Helenihi with a double into centerfield, with Schimpf narrowing the UK lead to one with an RBI fielders choice, allowing Clark to score.
Kentucky hosts its final home non-conference game on Tuesday, welcoming Wright State for a 6:30 p.m. ET first pitch at Cliff Hagan Stadium.