LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Sophomore southpaw Logan Darnell’s balk in the top of the eighth inning forced home the go-ahead run – part of four runs scored off the Kentucky bullpen in the eighth – as the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers secured a 10-9, come-from-behind win over the Kentucky Wildcats, on Wednesday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (18-13) held a 9-6 lead entering the top of the eighth, before Western struck for the go-ahead runs. The Wildcats pushed across six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take the 9-6 lead, erasing a 6-3 WKU lead. Western Kentucky turned to its ace Friday night starter, Louisville Slugger preseason All-American Matt Ridings, making only his second career relief appearance, notching the save with two scoreless innings. Ridings, a Baseball America preseason All-Sun Belt Conference first-team selection in 2009, struck out the side in the eighth and allowed one pesky single from lead-off man Chris Bisson in the ninth. A year ago, Ridings tallied a team-high 10-3 record and a 3.88 ERA in 15 starts, striking out 98 in 92.2 innings, the sixth-most strikeouts in WKU season history, becoming only the fifth player in school history to claim 10 wins, third-most in program annals.
The Sun Belt leader through 12 games of the conference season in 2009, Western Kentucky has emerged as the top program in the Sun Belt, just a year removed from the league crown and an appearance in the NCAA Athens Regional. The win for WKU marks its first win in the series in the last four meetings, with the last win coming in 2006, during UK’s Southeastern Conference Championship run. UK leads the all-time series with the Hilltoppers, 30-21.
Western Kentucky (22-9) was led in the game offensively by six players who each captured two hit nights, including Chad Cregar, Matt Rice, Matt Hightower, Terrance Dayleg, Jake Wells and Kes Carter. Rice, Hightower and Carter each had two RBI in the game for WKU. Rice had a key two-run double down the left field line in the eighth inning that helped propel WKU to the win. Hightower’s RBI came in the second and third inning when he drove in a run on a single in the second and blasted a solo shot over the right center field wall in the third. Both of Carter’s RBI came in the second inning when he hit a two-run single to right field.
Kentucky was led offensively in the game by junior Gunner Glad who was 2-for-5 on the night with three RBI. Glad has been on a tear for the Wildcats since returning to the lineup after an injury at the beginning of the season. On the season, the native of Tulsa, Okla., holds a .370 average with 20 RBI, with 12 RBI coming with two out. UK also got multi-hit nights from sophomore Chris Bisson, who was 2-for-4 with a RBI and a run scored and senior Chris McClendon, who finished 2-for-4 with a RBI and a run scored.
Western Kentucky used 10 pitchers in the game, getting shutout pitching from Ross Hammonds (2.0 innings), Garrie Krueger (0.2 innings), Harry Stubel (0.1 innings), Aaron Mayfield (0.2 innings), Bart Carter (1.0 innings) and Ridings (2.0 innings). Senior reliever Evan Teague started the game for the Hilltoppers going two innings, giving up one earned run on two hits, striking out three. The win was issued to Carter, who is now 3-1 on the season.
Kentucky used a combination of junior Clint Tilford, sophomore Mike Kaczmarek, junior Tyler Henry, freshman Braden Kapteyn and Darnell. Tilford, a West Paducah, Ky., native, started the game for the Wildcats, going 2.2 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits while striking out two. Kaczmarek threw a scoreless inning for the Wildcats, giving up no hits and striking out three. Henry went two innings giving up two runs on two hits and Kapteyn went 1.1 frames for Kentucky giving up three runs on three hits. The loss was given to Darnell who went two innings, giving up one earned run on two hits and striking out five of the six outs he recorded.
Kentucky will return to action Friday when they host a three-game series with No. 3 Georgia at Cliff Hagan Stadium with first pitch slated for 6:30 pm ET. All the action can be heard on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM. Kentucky will start freshman right-hander Alex Meyer Friday, senior Chris Rusin Saturday and junior James Paxton Sunday.
Western Kentucky got on the board first when Tilford gave up three consecutive hits to start off the second inning. The first hit was a double down the right field line by slugger Cregar, who advanced to third on the single by Rice and later scored when Hightower grounded a ball through the left side of the infield. After Tilford got a fielder’s choice and a groundout to first to put runners at second and third with two outs, Carter sent a sharp single over the head of Bisson, giving WKU a three-run lead. Tilford then walked Jared Andreoli to put runners on first and second with two outs for Matt Peyton who was hit by a pitch to load the bases. The Kentucky righty then got Wade Gaynor to strikeout to end the inning.
The Wildcats answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the second, when Marcus Nidiffer roped a single up the middle scoring Keenan Wiley from second. The inning started when Spencer Korus walked and was thrown out at second when Wiley grounded into a fielder’s choice at second. Wiley then stole second base, and after a Kapteyn strikeout, Nidiffer sent a scorched line drive up the middle scoring Wiley easily and cutting the WKU lead to two. The inning ended when Chad Wright flied out to deep center field.
The Hilltoppers got the run back in the third inning when Hightower picked up his second RBI of the game on his sixth homer of the year. With a 3-1 count and two outs, Hightower sent a laser shot to right center field over the McDonalds sign giving WKU a 4-1 lead. After back-to-back singles by Dayleg and Wells, UK Head Coach Gary Henderson made a pitching change bringing in lefty Mike Kaczmarek to face Carter. Carter struck out looking on a brilliant breaking ball by Kaczmarek to end the inning.
Kentucky tried to get a rally going in the fourth inning when junior Glad leadoff the inning reaching on an error by the third baseman. After Korus got hit by a pitch, Wiley and Kapteyn both struck out looking, leaving runners on first and second with two outs with Nidiffer coming to the plate. The Kentucky catcher struck out, ending the inning.
The Wildcats got a big two-out rally going in the fifth inning when Chris Wade got a two-out single up the middle, later scoring on a Glad single through the right side. After Wade’s single, McClendon got a base hit to right field moving Wade into scoring position at second base for Glad. The Kentucky first baseman then singled just past the Hilltopper third baseman, easily scoring Wade and putting runners at first and second with Korus stepping to the plate. After Korus walked, McClendon scored for Kentucky on a wild pitch during the at bat of Wiley who grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning with Kentucky still down one run.
WKU answered the Kentucky rally in the fifth with a run in the sixth inning. The inning started with a leadoff single through the right side of the infield by Carter. After a strikeout of Andreoli, Henry hit a batter putting runners on first and second for Gaynor, who popped up to right field. Cregar then got his first RBI of the game with a double down the right field line, putting runners on second and third with two outs. Kentucky then went to the bullpen and brought in Kapteyn who threw a wild pitch, bringing home Matt Payton and giving WKU a 6-3 lead. Kapteyn got out of the inning when Rice grounded out to second.
UK responded when WKU pitcher J.B. Paxson loaded the bases after a Kapteyn lead-off double, the seventh of the year for the freshman. With the bases loaded and no outs, Paxson walked Bisson to cut the WKU lead to two, bringing up Wade with the bases still loaded. The Hilltoppers brought in a new pitcher in the form Chad Adcock, who hit Wade with a pitch, for Kentucky’s second run of the inning. Kentucky tied the game when McClendon hit a rope single into left center field, scoring Rose and bringing up Glad with the bases still loaded. On the next pitch, Kentucky grabbed their first lead of the game when Glad singled through the left side, scoring two runs and putting runners on first and second with still no outs for Korus. After Korus struck out, Wiley sent a single over the head of the WKU shortstop scoring McClendon from second. Western Kentucky then changed pitchers, bringing in Mayfield, who struck out Kapteyn. The inning ended when Nidiffer struck out swinging, with Kentucky up 9-6.
Western Kentucky put together a game-winning rally in the eighth inning when Andreoli hit a double to left center field and came home to score on a single sharply hit up the middle by Payton. After Kapteyn hit a batter, Kentucky brought in Darnell who struck out the first batter he faced, but then gave up a double on a line drive just over the head of McClendon scoring two runs and tying the game at nine. Darnell then got another strikeout for the second out of the inning and after giving up a swinging bunt single to Dayleg, Darnell then balked brining in the runner from third and giving WKU a one run lead. The inning ended on a fly out to right field by Wells.