Catcher Joey Lewis belted a lead-off solo home run to left-center field in the top of the ninth inning, giving No. 3 Georgia a 5-4 win over the Kentucky baseball team, completing a three-game sweep of the Wildcats, on Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
With the game tied 4-4 entering the final inning, UK reliever Clint Tilford found himself in a 2-0 hole to Lewis, the lead-off hitter in the frame. Lewis, a 6-foot-4, 226-pounder from Fayetteville, Ga., hit Tilford’s offering for his 11th homer of the season, with Georgia closer Dean Weaver finishing off the game for his team-high seventh save of the season. Lewis, who leads the Southeastern Conference with 15 doubles, has slugged for a .713 percentage in 2009, hitting for a .346 average with 37 RBI. The Bulldogs have now homered in 32 of 34 games in 2008, ranking third in the SEC with 64 team home runs.
Tilford suffered the loss, allowing the decisive home run, just the second homer allowed by Tilford on the year. Entering the ninth, Tilford had worked two hitless innings in relief of starter James Paxton, with the homer allowed to Lewis being the only hit given up by the West Paducah, Ky., native.
Paxton, a junior from Ladner, British Columbia, pitched six innings, allowing four runs, three walks and striking out 10. Paxton has now struck out 10 or more in four games this season, totaling 65 strikeouts in 43 innings on the season. The UK pitching staff combined to allow only three hits over the final seven innings, with two of the hits coming as homers that accounted for three runs. Southpaw Logan Darnell worked a perfect ninth inning after relieving Tilford, striking out one without allowing a base runner.
Georgia (29-6, 11-4 SEC) starter Justin Grimm turned in a solid outing, going 5.2 innings, allowing seven hits and four runs – three earned – walking two and striking out six. The Bulldogs used relievers Justin Earls, Will Harvil and Weaver, combining to hurl 3.1 scoreless innings. With the win, Georgia took the overall lead in the conference, up half a game on No. 1 Arkansas.
Kentucky (18-16, 4-11 SEC) stranded 10 runners on base in the game, bringing its three-game series total to 33 runners left on base. The Wildcats were led offensively by lead-off man Chris Bisson who totaled his 15th multiple-hit game on the year, going 3-for-5. UK got hits from freshmen Chad Wright, Andy Burns and Michael Williams, with Gunner Glad, Chris Wade, Bryan Rose and Keenan Wiley each contributing hits. Burns, a freshman from Fort Collins, Colo., gave UK its 19th first-inning run of the year, belting his fourth homer on the first pitch he saw in the game. Williams, a freshman catcher from Knoxville, Tenn., registered his first career SEC start, notching an RBI single in his first plate appearance.
Kentucky returns to action Tuesday, traveling to Louisville to face off with the Cardinals.
UK took an early lead with a run in the first inning, using the fourth homer of the year from Burns. Burns, a 2008 Aflac All-American at Rocky Mountain High School, got a first-pitch offering from Grimm and ripped it into the left-center field gap for his fourth jack of the year, leading all UK freshmen and ranking third on the team.
Georgia responded with two runs and three hits in the second inning, beginning with freshman Zach Cone’s seventh double of the year down the right-field line. After Paxton struck out Lyle Allen swinging, Michael Demperio scored Cone with a double into right-center field. Shortstop Levi Hyams grounded out to first base to move Demperio to third, bringing up lead-off man Peter Verdin. Verdin worked a two-strike count and bounced a chopper off the plate for an infield hit, bouncing so high that shortstop Chris Wade did not have a play at first, with Paxton surrendering a hard-luck go-ahead run.
The Wildcats immediately responded with a run in the bottom of the second, evening the game at 2-2. Wade started the inning with a strikeout, but the third pitch got under the glove of Lewis behind the plate, allowing wade to reach first on a wild pitch. Wiley followed with a walk and Williams, making his first career SEC start, ripped the first pitch he saw into the left-center field gap, scoring Wade.
In the bottom of the third, UK tallied a run on one hit to take a 3-2 lead. After Bisson led off with a ground out to shortstop, Glad worked a full-count walk, moving to second on a balk from Grimm, his third balk of the year. Wade followed, pulling a double down the left-field line, painting the chalk for his sixth two-bagger of the year, a year after leading the conference with 24 doubles in 2008, scoring Glad and making it 3-2 UK.
Georgia regained the lead with two, two-out RBI in the top of the fifth inning. With two out, freshman third baseman Colby May worked a staggering 12-pitch at bat into a walk. Rich Poythress, the NCAA leader in RBI, followed, ripping his 16th homer of the year over the 30-foot wall in right field, making it 4-3 Georgia.
UK struck for a game-tying run in the bottom of the sixth, as Wiley led off with a single up the middle, stealing his seventh base of the year to advance into scoring position. After Williams struck out swinging, Rose drilled a hard-hit single that necessitated a diving play from UGA’s second baseman, Michael Demperio, who threw wide of the base, sailing into the UK dugout and allowing Wiley to score from second.
Kentucky threatened to score the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh, as Bisson led off with a hard-hit single, pulled through the right side on the first pitch of the frame. Glad struck out swinging as Bisson stole second and Wade drew a walk while Bisson stole third, putting runners on the corners for Wiley. Wiley lofted the first pitch he saw into the left-center field gap for what appeared to be an RBI single, but UGA left fielder Lyle Allen made an athletic diving catch to rob UK of the go-ahead run.
Georgia took the lead for good in the top of the ninth, as Tilford gave up the homer to Lewis, who sailed the ball over the fence for the game-winning home run.
UK rallied with a one-out hit from Bisson in the bottom half of the inning, with the speedy Orleans, Ontario native moving to second on a wild pitch and third on a Glad ground out. Senior Chris McClendon grounded out to second base to end the game, giving UK its seventh straight loss. UK’s last seven-game losing streak came in 2005, when the Wildcats lost seven games in a row. UK lost eight consecutive conference games during 2005, with a pair of non-conference, mid-week wins sandwiched in between the losing streak.