LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Junior James Paxton worked 6.2 innings allowing one run and striking out 10 and freshman Braden Kapteyn accounted for all three of Kentucky’s RBI – a career-high – as the Wildcats posted a 3-1 series-opening win over the Vanderbilt Commodores, on a gorgeous Friday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
“It felt good out there, I didn’t really have my best stuff, but we just battled and got the win,” Paxton said. “I didn’t really get in a rhythm early but kind of got it towards the middle innings. My defense made great plays behind me and that really helped us out. Of course I was feeling a bit fatigued out there (in the seventh inning), but I just wanted to keep the ball down in the zone and then Logan (Darnell), did a great job closing it out.”
Paxton, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound southpaw, was terrific again for the Wildcats, going 6.2 innings allowing one earned run on two hits. Although, he walked a season-high three batters, the junior struck out 10 and lowered his ERA to a terrific 2.95 mark. In his five starts this season, Paxton has struck out 10 or more three times, totaling 47 strikeouts in 30 innings on the season. In his last start at No. 3 LSU Friday, Paxton struck out 14 Tigers in six innings.
“James pitched well and it wasn’t his sharpest outing of the year,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “He is really learning to concentrate and every outing he keeps getting better and better. He is really controlling his body better, he is strong, he is in good shape and he is throwing his fastball early in the count for strikes.”
Kentucky (14-4, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) was paced offensively by Kapteyn, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound corner infielder. Although, he only had one hit, the freshman plated all three runs for the Wildcats, tying his career high in RBI. The native of Lansing, Ill., now has 10 RBI on the season, including 21 hits and posting a .368 average.
UK will be back in action again Saturday afternoon playing game two against the Commodores at Cliff Hagan Stadium. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m. ET. The game can be heard live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with Dick Gabriel calling the action. Fans can catch the action on WLAP 630-AM in Lexington and on WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville. The game will pit UK senior Chris Rusin (3-1, 3.33 ERA) against sophomore right-hander Caleb Cotham (3-1, 2.77 ERA).
Logan Darnell, a sophomore southpaw, closed out the game for UK, relieving Paxton in the seventh and picking up his second save of the year with 2.1 shutout innings. Vanderbilt ace Mike Minor, a preseason All-American and 2008 summer Player of the Year, took the loss, allowing six hits, three runs – two earned – walking two and striking out three.
UK also got multi-hit games from second baseman Chris Bisson and center fielder Keenan Wiley. Bisson, who extended his hitting streak to a career-high tying eight games, was 2-for-4 in the game with a run scored. His eight-game hitting streak is the current longest of the season for the Wildcats. Wiley, who reached base twice in the game, was 2-for-3 with two key rally-starting singles. Chris Wade also had a good offensive game, posting a hit and two runs scored.
Kentucky posted a run in the first inning on a fielders’ choice by Kapteyn. Bisson started the inning with an infield single but was picked off at first base by Minor. Wade then walked and advanced to third base on the single up the middle by Wiley, who made a heads up play advancing to second when the throw went to third base. Kapteyn then sent a dribbler to third base, drawing a throw home from the third baseman Jason Esposito that was too late to get Wade.
Kapteyn, a Louisville Slugger High School All-American in 2008, picked up another RBI in the third inning when he brought home Bisson with a single up the middle. Bisson started the rally with an infield single, his second of the game, then advanced to third on an infield single by Wiley, after the third baseman threw widely to first. With runners at the corners, Kapteyn sent a rope up the middle, easily scoring Bisson. The RBI was Kapteyn’s eighth of the season. UK loaded the bases a batter later when Nidiffer got hit by a pitch, but to no avail as freshman Chad Wright flied out to left center to end the inning.
Vanderbilt (13-7, 1-3 SEC) got on the board in the fourth inning, narrowing the UK lead to 2-1. With a runner on first and one out, Aaron Westlake grounded a ball to Bisson that appeared to hit runner Curt Casali as he headed towards second. Henderson came out to argue and the umpires convened to discuss the play and decided that the ball did not hit the runner and the runner was ruled safe at a second, later scoring on a sharp single up the middle up Joe Loftus, cutting the Kentucky lead to one.
Kentucky got the run back in the fifth inning on a Kapteyn’s third RBI of the game. Wade started the inning for Kentucky, reaching on an error by the second baseman, advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt by Wiley and then to third on a wild pitch. Kapteyn was the next batter and the freshman sent a rope to the first baseman Westlake, who backhanded the ball and looked back Wade at third, but when Westlake took a step to the bag, the speedy Wade broke towards the plate. Westlake then sprinted to the bag, stepping on first and throwing home all in the same motion, but the throw was late as Wade made an outstanding head first slide getting his left hand on home plate a split second before the catcher applied the tag.
Paxton got great defensive help in the sixth inning when he started the inning with a leadoff walk, striking out the next batter and then giving up a long line out to center field. Wiley caught the ball right at the yellow line on the wall, having to leap backwards and bang into the wall to make the game saving catch. The final out of the inning came when Westlake hit a sharp grounder to first base, gathered nicely by Spencer Korus who stepped on the bag to end the inning.
Darnell came into the game for the Wildcats in the sixth inning and pitched 2.1 scoreless innings for the Wildcats. The sophomore gave up only one hit and struck out one batter. He also picked up his second save of the season, tied for most on the team.