Facing elimination for the second consecutive game, No. 24 Kentucky jumped out to a 9-1 lead and held off a middle-inning charge from the 13th-ranked Michigan Wolverines, securing a 12-6 win and setting up a 7 p.m. ET matchup with No. 12 Arizona, on Sunday night at Wilpon Complex.
Kentucky (44-18) will face the No. 1 seeded Arizona Wildcats (40-17), a team that is 2-0 in the tournament. UK would have to post a win on Sunday night to force a championship game on Monday night vs. Arizona.
The Wildcats exploded for nine runs in the first two frames, using a seven-run first inning to take a lead it would not relinquish. UK added to its season total for runs scored, setting a new school-record with 507 runs, edging the 500 scored in 2006. With 44 wins, UK had equaled the best season in the 104-year history of the program.
All-American outfielder Sawyer Carroll again paced UK at the plate, joining fellow All-American Collin Cowgill in a hot-hitting UK offense that saw every member of the Wildcat lineup total a hit.
Carroll belted his third homer in as many NCAA Tournament games, boosting his season total to 19, adding a school-record 83 RBI. Carroll, who extended his hit streak to a team-high 15 games, finished 1-for-3 with three runs scored, a walk and a hit by pitch. In the NCAA Tournament, Carroll has batted 5-for-10 with six runs scored, three homers, five RBI, three walks and one hit by pitch. Carroll has yet to strikeout in NCAA Tournament play.
With 97 hits on the season, Carroll remains in second place in UK history, needing just five hits to tie Jeff Abbott’s 1994 record of 102 hits. Carroll, a senior from Henryetta, Okla., improved his average to an SEC-leading .420.
Cowgill led UK with a 3-for-5, two RBI performance, joining Ryan Wilkes as multi-hit performers. Outfielder Troy Frazier, making his first plate appearance of the tournament slammed his third homer of the season in the first inning, going 1-for-4 with two RBI.
Chris Wade went 1-for-1 with two RBI and a walk, laying down his school-record 20th sac bunt of the season.
UK turned to sophomore Clint Tilford to make the start, going 3.1 innings, allowing seven hits and five runs – four earned, striking out one and walking four. Mike Kaczmarek picked up his first career win, going 1.2 innings, allowing three hits and one run. Brock Baber relieved Kaczmarek for 1.1 scoreless frames and junior right-hander Scott Green closed out the game, going 2.2 scoreless innings.
Michigan (46-14) struck first with an unearned run in the top of the first. Jason Christian drew a full-count walk, moving to second on a groundout and taking third on a passed ball. Adam Abraham scored Christian with a single up the middle.
Kentucky wasted no time laying it on the Wolverines, as Keenan Wiley connected on the first pitch he saw, sending a lead-off single through the right side. Wilkes and Carroll followed with walks, loading the bases for Cowgill. UM immediately changed pitchers and Cowgill greeted him with a bomb into left field, coming inches shy of a grand slam, bouncing off the edge of the fence in left field, scoring Wiley and Wilkes. Brian Spear followed, launching his 18th double of the season into the left-centerfield gap, scoring Carroll and Cowgill. After a McClendon groundout, Wade belted his 24th double of the season, scoring Spear and moving him into a tie for second place all-time in UK season history. With Wade on second, Frazier swatted his third homer of the year, and his first since March 21 at Auburn, a no-doubt blast over the left-field 26-foot high wall.
UM added a run in the third, taking advantage of a one-out double from Abraham. Derek VanBuskirk scored Abraham with a single up the middle.
UK added to runs to its lead in the second inning, as Carroll got hit by a pitch to lead off and Cowgill ripped his second double in as many at bats. Spear hung a sac fly into centerfield to score Carroll and Wade followed a McClendon walk with a sac fly of his own, scoring Cowgill.
Michigan narrowed the UK lead to 9-5 with a three-run homer from Zach Putnam in the fourth inning. After Tilford struck out the first hitter, he issued Christian his third walk in as many at bats. Leif Mahler singled through the left side and Putnam belted just the second homer to dead center hit at Wilpon Complex in 2008, his 11th of the season.
Michigan added a run in the fifth inning, as Mike Dufek lead off with a single up the middle and after two outs, Mahler scored Dufek with a double into the right-centerfield gap, narrowly missing the glove of a diving Wiley.
UK stretched its lead to 11-6 with two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Wilkes laid down a bunt single down the third-base line, taking advantage of the third baseman playing well behind the bag. Carroll followed with a first-pitch homer to left-centerfield, his 19th of the year, placing him in a tie for eighth place all-time in UK season history.
Kentucky added a run in the seventh, as McClendon launched a lead-off double into right-centerfield, moving to third on Wade’s school-record 20th sac bunt of the year. Howe scored McClendon with a double to left field, his ninth of the year.
Adam Abraham led UM at the plate, going 4-for-6, with Jason Christian drawing a club-high three walks from the lead-off position.