KNOXVILLE -- Senior Aaron Lovett came on in relief of starter James Paxton in the third inning and worked 6.2 innings allowing just two runs, as the No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats secured a crucial road series with the Tennessee Volunteers with a 5-2 win on Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Lovett (4-1) was nearly perfect in relief, as the right-hander came on in the third inning with one out and a bases-loaded jam, getting the double play and retiring 12 of the next 13 batters. In 6.2 innings, Lovett allowed four hits and two runs, striking out three. Lovett’s lone blemishes came in the ninth inning with two outs, as the Vols hit back-to-back solo home runs. Scott Green emerged from the bullpen to pick up the save – his third of the year – tossing one pitch to secure the series for the Wildcats, who have won six of its past nine games.
Kentucky (37-14 13-13 Southeastern Conference) has now claimed back-to-back road series wins, including a series victory at then-No. 10 ranked Vanderbilt two weeks ago. The Wildcats will attempt to sweep the series on Sunday with first pitch at Lindsey Nelson Stadium slated for 2 p.m. ET. Fans can catch the action live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price calling the game. In Lexington the game can be heard on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.
Chris McClendon, playing in his first game since last Sunday due to a back injury, belted his third home run of the season, finishing 2-for-4 with two RBI, while playing an impressive third base. Brian Spear also added two hits, with every member of the starting lineup – with the exception of Keenan Wiley and Troy Frazier – notching a hit. Tyler Howe belted his fourth homer of the year in the ninth, going 1-for-3 with his NCAA-leading 25th hit by pitch of the season. Frazier did however make one of the more secular plays of the year in right field, tumbling over the fence, separating the UT bullpen from foul territory, to make a stellar catch late in the game.
Paxton worked two innings before being pulled due to a lingering Achilles injury, setting the stage for Lovett’s timely relief. Paxton allowed three hits and struck out one in his two frames, tossing 40 pitches. UT ace lefty Bryan Morgado took the loss, working six innings, allowing six hits and four runs, walking three and striking out nine. Joey Rosas finished the game out with three innings, allowing three hits and one run.
Tennessee (25-26, 11-15 SEC) threatened in the bottom half of the first inning as Kentrail Davis looped a single into left field and stole second on a botched pickoff attempt at first. After Paxton struck out Yan Gomes, Josh Liles singled into left field, fielded by Cowgill, who fired a strike to the plate, getting the speedy Davis attempting to score from second.
UT put the pressure on UK again in the bottom of the third, loading the bases and chasing Paxton from the game with his aching Achilles. After Danny Lima led off with a single, Cody Grisham reached on an error charged to Paxton, invoking a pitching change to Lovett. After P.J. Polk laid down a sacrifice, UK wisely called for an intentional walk of Davis, loading the bags. The move paid off as UK got out of the inning without any damage, forcing an inning-ending double play off the bat of Gomes.
Kentucky took a narrow 1-0 lead in the fourth inning, pushing across a run on two hits. Ryan Wilkes got the inning started with a hard single into centerfield, moving to second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball. After Sawyer Carroll drew a walk, Collin Cowgill hit into a double play that allowed Wilkes to score the first run of the game.
After a scoreless fifth inning, UK plated three runs in the sixth inning to stretch its lead to 4-0. Carroll led off with a double into the left-centerfield gap, his 17th double of the year. After Cowgill moved Carroll to third with an opposite field fly out, Spear ripped an RBI single into centerfield, scoring Carroll. Chris Wade hit into a fielders choice, with Spear out at second and Chris McClendon emptied Wade of the bags, with his third home run of the season, a jack over the right-field fence.
Howe gave UK a 5-0 lead in the top of the ninth, getting a solo home run – his fourth of the year – over the left-centerfield fence.
Tennessee got two back-to-back solo home runs in the ninth, from Cody Brown and Jeff Lockwood, cutting the UK lead to 5-2, but Green closed the door with his second one-pitch save of the season.