With two outs, down 6-5 and with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, sophomore shortstop Chris Wade belted the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence, giving No. 29 Kentucky a dramatic, walk-off grand slam – propelling the Wildcats to a series sweep with a 9-6 win over Indiana State – on a windy Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
“I was just trying to make good contact and hit the ball hard,” Wade, a Lexington, Ky., native and 2008 Freshman All-American said. “I was definitely not thinking about the home run, I just wanted to make good contact. When we were down, we kept the positive energy up in the dugout and never thought we were going to lose. The guys did a good job to get on base in the ninth and Clint (Tilford) kept us in the ball game on the mound.”
Kentucky (9-2) got its second walk-off win in the last four games, getting a walk-off win over Eastern Kentucky Wednesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium, as sophomore Chris Bisson ripped his first career homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat EKU. The win gives the Wildcats its second consecutive series win to open the season, as UK edged the Sycamores 12-4 in the opener Friday and got an eight-inning, shutout start from Chris Rusin Saturday in a 5-0 win. The Sycamores entered the series with an excellent 9-2 record and an average of well over eight runs per game. With a four-game series win at the Citadel and a win over Indiana, ISU carried momentum into the series, but suffered three straight losses to the Wildcats, who outscored the Sycamores 26-10 in the series.
Indiana State (9-5) held a commanding 6-1 lead with UK heading into the bottom of the seventh, when the Wildcats began their improbable rally. UK plated six unanswered runs over the next three innings, getting two runs in each the seventh and eighth, with Wade giving UK its decisive runs with one swing in the bottom of the ninth. The win extends UK’s school-record home, non-conference win streak to 27 games, with Kentucky’s last loss coming in 2007 against Morehead State. UK has now won seven consecutive games, with its last loss coming at No. 22 Coastal Carolina on opening weekend.
The Wildcats got five shutout innings in relief from junior right-hander Clint Tilford, who picked up his first win of the year. The West Paducah, Ky., native, came into the game with UK down five runs and shut the door on the Sycamores. Tilford pitched five innings of scoreless baseball, giving up just two hits while striking out three and walking only one batter. UK started freshman Sean Bouthilette in his third career starting assignment, with Bouthilette not escaping the first inning after allowing four unearned runs. Tyler Henry kept UK in the ballgame, going 3.1 innings, with two runs allowed and four strikeouts.
“I think he (Tilford) really stepped up and was the star of the game in my opinion,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “He was outstanding today and really kept us in the ballgame. Tyler (Henry) also did well to get out of the first and through the next couple of innings.”
Kentucky also received great offensive production Sunday from sophomore Chris Bisson, and Chad Wright, another Paducah, Ky., native. Wright, a freshman outfielder, was 3-for-5 in the game with one RBI. The freshman was Kentucky’s key rally starter in the seventh and eighth innings, getting a double in the seventh and a single in the eighth. Wright improved his batting average to .348 on the season, one of the top averages on the team. Bisson finished the game with two hits, two RBI and one run scored, improving his batting average to .415.
“I think Chad really stepped up right there (with a leadoff double in seventh inning),” Henderson said. “He really hit the ball right on the nose and it gave us a spark and created some tension in the ISU dugout.”
Wade was one of three Wildcats to have two or more hits in the game, improving his hitting streak to six games. That grand slam was the fifth grand slam in the past two years for the Wildcats, the third for Wade. The shortstop finished the game with five RBI, a new career-high.
With UK trailing 6-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh and ISU starter Joe Rodriguez in the midst of setting down 12 consecutive UK hitters without allowing a base runner, Chad Wright led off with a double cranked into deep right center field, just out of the reach of ISU’s right-fielder, Nick Ciolli, who attempted a running, back-handed catch with treacherous winds. Troy Frazier followed, getting hit by a pitch, and advancing to second when William Campbell reached on an error to right field. After a Wade pop up and a Rose strikeout, the Wildcats would plate two runs when Bisson ripped his third double of the season down the right field line, scoring Wright and Frazier. Bisson is now 3-for-3 in his career with the bases loaded.
UK continued to hold the momentum with two runs in the eighth, cutting the ISU lead to 6-5. Chad Wright started the inning with a one-out single up the middle, then Frazier singled to left to put runners on first and second with one out. Campbell, UK’s first basemen, was the next batter and got hit by a pitch, bringing Wade to the plate. Wade then grounded a ball to the third baseman, who fielded the ball on a dive, popped to his feet and tried to tag out Frazier who was advancing to third but his tag missed, scoring a run and loading the bases. Nidiffer then sent a rope into left center field which was dropped by the left fielder as he hit the wall. Nidiffer was given a single and a RBI on the play but was intriguingly ruled out when he apparently passed Wade, who was at first base, on the base paths. An intentional walk to Bisson loaded the bases again in the inning but to no avail as Burns struck out swinging to end the inning with Kentucky still down a run.
The four runs in the seventh and eighth set the stage for the heroic ninth inning, which began with a ground out from Wiley. Freshman Braden Kapteyn fought through a tough at bat, while hitting cleanup for the first time in his career, sneaking a single through the right side to put the tying run on base. After Chad Wright popped up, Frazier got hit by his second pitch of the day. UK then turned to its injured third baseman, Chris McClendon, for a pinch-hitting opportunity with the game-tying run at second base. McClendon fought through a tough at bat and lined a hard-hit grounder to the shortstop, who made a nice play and came up firing to first base. McClendon was hobbled out of the box and was forced to run to first base on one leg, but the ISU shortstop’s off-balance throw landed in the dirt in front of the bag, with first baseman Brian Jett unable to scoop it before the limping McClendon touched the base. The play loaded the bases for Wade, who ripped the first pitch he saw over the left field fence, fighting 20-30 mph winds blowing from right to left field, for his first homer of the year.
The Sycamores took an early lead in the game on a double off the right field wall by designated hitter Brady Shoemaker in the first inning, taking a 4-0 lead. The inning started when Kyle Burnam reached on an error, advancing to second on a stolen base and then to third on a fly out to deep center field by Ciolli. The next batter was Shoemaker, who on a 2-2 pitch, sent a laser off the right field wall, easily scoring Burnam from third and giving the Sycamores their first lead of the series. Indiana State posted two more runs after Bouthilette allowed a base-loaded single through the right side of the infield by Brian Ramirez. After a visit to the mound by Henderson, Henry came into the game to try to get out of the inning. Henry got ahead in the count to catcher Bronco Lafrenz, but would allow another run to score when Lafrenz singled, grounding a ball just pass the glove of Wade. The next batter grounded out to third to end in the inning, giving the Sycamores a four run leading heading into the bottom of the first inning.
Kentucky cut the lead to three in the bottom of the inning when Chad Wright got an RBI on an infield single. Bisson led off the inning with a single to right field, advancing to second on the walk to Wiley. Both runners advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch by lefty Rodriguez. With two outs and two on, Chad Wright hit a sharp groundball to the hole between second and third reaching on an infield single and plating Bisson.
Indiana State added a run in the fourth inning on a leadoff homer to left field by Lefrenz. The Sycamores then got a single and a double, putting runners on second and third with no outs. With the infield in, the next batter hit a slow grounder to Wade for the first out. Then a sacrifice fly to deep left center field by Ciolli brought home ISU’s sixth run of the game