With Kentucky trailing No. 28 South Carolina 4-3 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, freshman infielder Andy Burns connected on the first pitch he saw on the weekend, belting a two-run, walk-off home run over the right-field fence, lifting UK to a series-evening 5-4 win over the Gamecocks, on Saturday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Burns, a Fort Collins, Colo., native and 2008 Aflac All-American at Rocky Mountain High School, strolled to the plate with shortstop Chris Wade on first base after getting hit by a pitch and UK trailing 4-3 with one out. Burns, a 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, got a first-pitch offering from USC closer Alex Farrotto and sent it high into right field, sneaking over the fence and past the glove of South Carolina’s leaping right-fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr.
“I just knew I got the barrel of the bat on the ball,” Burns said when asked about his thoughts after making contact. “Throughout the day, the ball was really carrying to right field. When I saw it heading toward the wall and go over, it was just a lot of emotion.”
Burns’ third homer of the year highlighted a wacky twin-bill in Lexington, as the two teams combined to score 49 runs in the first game, with South Carolina edging UK 20-19 in a four-hour affair. UK plated single runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings to even up the game at 3-3 heading into the top of the ninth inning. With Rusin twirling a gem on the mound, UK sent him in for the ninth, but the southpaw walked the lead-off man, catcher Kyle Enders – Rusin’s only walk all day – with Enders moving to third on a single. With nine-hole hitter Scott Wingo lurking at the plate, USC coach Ray Tanner dialed up a brilliant play call, as Wingo laid down a squeeze bunt, with Enders scoring the go-ahead run with two outs in the ninth.
The go-ahead run from USC in the ninth set the stage for Burns’ heroics, the first at bat for the freshman on the weekend. Burns, who had started 18 games and played in 21 on the year, did not see action in the first game with UK third baseman Chris McClendon returning from injury. Burns made the most of the only pitch he has seen in the series, giving UK its third walk-off homer of the year, all coming of the first pitch.
“There are teams that never get to hit a walk-off homer in a year and we have hit three,” Burns said. “We just find ways to win and the team did a great job getting it done.”
“I was just thinking we needed a base runner,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “The way the ball was flying out of the park all day, I thought it could get out.
“I was really disappointed that they scored a run in the top of the ninth to take a lead. After both teams hit 11 home runs in the first game, I was just hoping that we had one more left in us. It was a great win, I was disappointed in the way we played in the first game, but not disappointed in the way we competed. We were down 11 runs in the first game and never stopped battling. We didn’t play well at times, but I am really happy with the way the kids competed all day.”
After the two schools’ squared off in the marathon slugfest in game one, UK turned to senior southpaw Chris Rusin, who turned in the kind of gutsy pitching performance the Wildcats required. Rusin tossed 8.2 stellar innings, allowing four runs, while striking out nine. In his last four starts, Rusin has gotten all but four outs, tossing two complete games, a eight-inning win over Indiana State on the final non-conference weekend, and his 8.2 outing against USC. On the season, the native of Canton, Mich., has a 3.21 ERA, allowing only 15 earned runs in 42 innings of work, while striking out a team-high 55. The lefty was replaced by sophomore Logan Darnell (3-0), who got the win in the game after getting the final out in the ninth inning.
Farotto, USC’s closer, suffered the loss, dropping him to 3-1 on the season, keeping him from his SEC-leading sixth save of the year. USC freshman southpaw Nolan Belcher turned in a gem as well, going 5.2 innings, allowing four hits and one run.
UK had a great offensive day from junior Gunner Glad, who had three homers in game one of the double header. In game two, the Tulsa, Okla., native, was 2-for-3 with one run scored, also drawing a walk. Burns led the Wildcats with the decisive two RBI in the game, both on the game-winning homer. Second baseman Chris Bisson and Wade also had an RBI for Kentucky.
Kentucky (16-8, 4-4 SEC) will play the rubber match against South Carolina, Sunday at Cliff Hagan Stadium at 1 pm ET. Kentucky will send freshman Alex Meyer (1-1) to the mound to face South Carolina’s junior righty Blake Cooper (3-2). On the season, Meyer has a 4.81 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 24.1 innings of work. Cooper has a 4.74 ERA on the season while striking out 26 in 24.2 innings. The game will be broadcast on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with the Voice of Kentucky Baseball Neil Price behind the microphone. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.
South Carolina grabbed a lead early posting a run on two hits in the second inning. With one out, Rusin gave up back-to-back doubles, the first to Crisp and the second to Enders, which scored Crisp. Kentucky’s lefty starter then got out of the inning when he got a fly out to center and a pop out to second.
Kentucky mounted a rally in the bottom of the fourth getting a leadoff single by Glad who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Spencer Korus then fisted a ball that dropped into shallow center field to put runners on the corners with no outs for Chad Wright. The freshman from Paducah, Ky., struck out, bringing up the top of the order in Bisson. After Bisson walked, Wade brought in the easiest RBI in baseball, getting hit by a pitch and scoring Glad. McClendon then ended the inning grounding into a double play.
The Gamecocks started a rally in the top of the sixth inning with a leadoff single and then a double put runners on second and third with Ebert due up at the plate. Ebert sent a soaring fly ball to deep left field that stayed in the ball park, but got the job done as both runners advanced a base on the play. DeAngelo Mack then sent a single through the left side, with the infield in, to give USC a two-run lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning.
UK cut the USC lead to one in the bottom of the seventh inning when Keenan Wiley came home to score on a fielder’s choice by Bisson. Wiley started off the inning beating out a throw to first base on an infield single. Glad then ripped a single over the shortstops head, putting runners on first and second for Korus, who placed a perfect bunt and moved the runners to second and third. After a walk to Wright, Bisson grounded sharply to shortstop who fielded the ball but could only get the out at second, allowing Wiley to score. The inning ended when Wade grounded out to third base.
The Wildcats tied the game in the eighth getting one run on no hits. The inning started when McClendon walked, advancing to second when Nidiffer grounded out to the second baseman. After another walk to Kapteyn and Wiley struck out, Kentucky got its third walk of the inning, loading the bases for Korus. In the at bat of Korus, Westmoreland threw a wild pitch allowing pinch runner Neiko Johnson to score from third and tie the game. Korus ended up walking to load the bases again, leading to a USC pitching change in which they brought in Grimes Medlin. Wright then grounded into a force out at first to end the inning.
The Gamecocks grabbed the lead again in the top of the ninth inning by getting a suicide squeeze by Wingo. Enders led off the inning with a walk, advancing to third on a single by Dalles who was thrown out at second base trying to advance. Rusin then struck out Haney and with two outs and a runner on third base, Wingo laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line scoring Enders and giving the Gamecocks the lead.
The key at bat in the ninth inning for the Wildcats was by Wade, who got hit by a pitch, putting the tying runner on base and giving Burns a chance to win the game for Kentucky, ripping his third homer of the season.