LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Sophomore Chris Bisson’s two-out, two-run walk-off shot in the bottom of the ninth – his first career home run – lifted the No. 29 Kentucky Wildcats to a dramatic 9-8 comeback win over Eastern Kentucky, tying the school record for the most consecutive home non-conference wins, Wednesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Bisson, an infielder with 77 career at bats and five career extra-base hits entering the decisive at bat, belted the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth, a no-doubt jack over the right-field fence. The Orleans, Ontario, native, strolled to the plate with the Wildcats down 8-7 and the game-tying run on first base, in the form of speedy infielder Neiko Johnson, who had pinch run for catcher Marcus Nidiffer. Nidiffer battled to give UK a chance to win, fighting off a two-out, two-strike pitch from EKU’s Chris Hord for a single into left field.
“He crushed it,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “That is a no-doubt home run, a ball that gets out of any park in the nation, not just ours. The first thought I had was about Keenan Wiley’s walk-off homer to beat Louisville last year. Going into the bottom of the inning, the mindset is just to get on base and Nidiffer did a good job getting a two-out, two-strike hit and giving Chris a chance and Chris put a really good swing on the ball.”
After leading the entire game, the Wildcats allowed five runs on three hits and one key Kentucky error, giving EKU an 8-7 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. The decisive error came with UK holding a 7-6 lead with two strikes, two out and a runner on third base. Sophomore shortstop Chris Wade, considered one of the top defensive players in the Southeastern Conference, fielded a roller and misfired on his throw in the dirt, with first baseman Spencer Korus unable to scoop it out, allowing the game-tying run to score. EKU continued the rally, getting an RBI single through the left side of the infield for the go-ahead run.
Kentucky would make two quick outs to lead off the ninth, with Frazier flying out and Rose grounding out. Nidiffer would keep the inning alive with a sharp single through the left side of the infield, bringing up Bisson.
The win equals the 1982-83 clubs’ school record of 24 consecutive home non-conference wins. UK’s last home non-conference loss dates back to the 2007 season, a setback against Morehead State. The loss drops EKU to 3-3 overall, as the Colonels entered the game Wednesday fresh off a win over No. 25 Louisville in Richmond, Ky.
Bisson was 3-for-4 in the game, with three runs scored and two RBI. Kentucky (6-2) hit three homers in the game, a solo shot by Chris McClendon – who also had three hits – a three-run homer by freshman Chad Wright, who finished with four RBI, and Bisson’s game winning bomb. The walk-off homer was reminiscent of Keenan Wiley’s 12th-inning, walk-off home run against Louisville in 2008, a homer that served as Wiley’s first career round tripper in a total of 244 career at bats.
“That (Keenan Wiley home run) kind of inspired me because I got to sit and be a part of that last year,” Bisson said. “I really wanted to come in and just put a good swing on the ball.”
Kentucky will return to action Friday starting a three-game series with Indiana State at Cliff Hagan Stadium at 4 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with video, stats and audio also available on UKathletics.com.
UK freshman Alex Meyer, ranked as the second-best freshman in the country by Baseball America, made a effective start for the Wildcats. In 4.1 innings of work, Meyer struck out six, only allowing two earned runs. UK turned to Tyler Henry, Mike Kaczmarek and Braden Kapteyn out of the bullpen, with Kapteyn earning his first career win.
Meyer, an Aflac All-American out of Greensburg, Ind., worked out of trouble in the first inning after giving up a double and walking a batter. Meyer, a 6-foot-8 right-hander, then would strike out a batter, pickoff a runner at second and get a groundout to first.
Kentucky gave Meyer run support in the second inning when Chad Wright hit his first career home run. With two outs, Bisson would reach on a single and then moved to second on an error by the shortstop. After Wade was then hit by a pitch, Wright would hammer the first pitch that he saw into deep right field, giving Kentucky a 3-0 lead heading into the third.
Meyer worked out of a bases loaded jam in the third inning when he walked the bases loaded with one out. After a visit from Henderson, Meyer got out of the inning when Jayson Langfels struck out and Anthony Ottrando was thrown out at first on a great play charging in by Wade.
Kentucky added another run in the fourth inning on a sacrifice bunt by Chad Wright. Nidiffer started the inning with a walk advancing to second on the bunt by Bisson. Nidiffer, who advanced to third when Wade reached on an infield single, eventually came home to score on the sacrifice bunt by Wright, giving Kentucky a 4-0 lead.
Eastern Kentucky (3-3) got on the board in the fifth inning after Meyer left the game with runners at first and second. Henry then came in and gave up back to back singles, scoring two runs and cutting the UK lead to two. EKU’s Tyler Rehmel would single and steal a base to get into scoring position. After a walk to Langfels, Ottrando would single up the middle, getting a big hop from the infield and lifting the ball over the head of Wade and scoring Rehmel. Ottrando then got picked off of first base for the second out of the inning. With a runner on third and two outs, Stevens would drill a single through the infield on the left side scoring Langfels and giving the Colonels their second run of the game.
The Wildcats answered in a hurry, getting a leadoff homer by McClendon. On a 0-2 count, the third baseman sent a no-doubter to deep right field, his first of the season. Kentucky would add two more runs after Rose, who pinch hit for Farris, reached on an error, advancing to second on a stolen base and eventually coming home to score on a single by Bisson, who advanced to second on a throwing error. Bisson later scored when Wade hit a hard single through the left side, giving the Wildcats a four run lead, 7-3.
Good bunting got Henry in a jam in the sixth inning when a walk and two perfectly placed EKU bunt singles loaded the bases for left fielder Aaron Burrows. Henry settled down and got out of the inning. After getting Burrows to strikeout, the junior righty got an easy groundout to second for a 4-6-3 double play.
Henry left the game in the seventh inning after walking the first two batters, with Henderson bringing in Kaczmarek. The lefty got a strikeout of Stevens, and then got Alan Abreu and Ryan Faidley to fly out to end the inning.
The Colonels made the game closer in the eighth inning by getting four-straight walks to bring in a run. Kaczmarek walked the first three batters, while Kapteyn walked in the run. Kapteyn, the freshman righty, then got out of the inning, getting a strikeout of Ottrando and a ground out by Stevens to short.
In the ninth, Eastern Kentucky would take their first lead of the game, posting five runs. The inning started on a single up the middle by Abreu who advanced to second on the walk to Faidley. Abreu would then come home to score after a double down the right field line by Richie Rodriguez. With two on and no outs, Kapteyn would give up a triple into deep right center field to Aaron Barrows cutting the Kentucky lead to one. After Kapteyn got Rehmel to strikeout, Langfels grounded to the usually sure handed Wade who gathered in the ball, but threw low to Korus at first, allowing the ball to get away and scoring the tying run. Ottrando later walked and Langfels would score on a single through the left side by Stevens, giving EKU a temporary lead till Bisson ended things in the ninth.