TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Behind a complete-game pitching performance from senior southpaw Chris Rusin – who struck out nine in nine innings without allowing an earned run – the Kentucky Wildcats posted a dominating 11-1 series-evening win over Alabama, on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in front of 4,335 fans at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
Rusin, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, was dominate from the opening pitch, hurling his third complete game of the year, striking out nine without issuing a walk, allowing only seven hits and one unearned run. The Canton, Mich., native, faced the minimum nine hitters through the first four innings and through the sixth, seventh and ninth innings, retired seven straight hitters.
Rusin, who held Alabama to a season-low one run on seven hits, notched his 21st career win, moving him into sole possession of fifth-place in Kentucky career history, past 2008 senior Andrew Albers’ 20-career wins. With nine punch-outs Saturday, Rusin now has 247 in his career, good for sole possession of fourth place in UK history, just 12 strikeouts shy of MLB ace Brandon Webb’s 259 career total.
Rusin’s pitching performance came against a hot-hitting Alabama club that entered the game leading the conference offensively, averaging nearly 10 runs per game and hitting .341 as a team. UK’s Saturday starter only allowed multiple base runners in two innings, including back-to-back singles in the bottom of the ninth inning. Rusin, a 2008 first-team All-Southeastern Conference starting pitcher, improved to 5-3 on the year with a 3.73 ERA, striking out 81 in 70 innings.
"(Rusin) was outstanding," Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. "Both of their (Friday and Saturday) starters (James Paxton and Chris Rusin) have been outstanding. He was a little bit different with a breaking ball down and in. He had great command."
Kentucky (22-20, 7-13 SEC) was led offensively by sophomore second baseman Chris Bisson and senior third sacker Chris McClendon. Bisson’s three-RBI triple in the fourth inning highlighted a five-run frame and McClendon’s three-run homer boosted UK to a four-run seventh inning. Bisson, McClendon, catcher Marcus Nidiffer and first baseman Gunner Glad each charted multiple-hit games. Bisson finished 2-for-4 with three RBI and a walk and McClendon finished 2-for-3 with three RBI and two walks, including his second round-tripper of the year. Nidiffer added a 2-for-4 game, with Glad notching a 2-for-4 afternoon. Lead-off man Chad Wright, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, finished 1-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk. Since moving to the lead-off spot Sunday against No. 1 Georgia, Wright has reached base safely in 34-of-50 plate appearances, an astounding 68-percent.
Alabama (28-15, 11-9 SEC) was held to its lowest run total of the season on Saturday. UA’s previous low was two runs in losses to Troy on March 3 and Ole Miss on March 21. UA starter Del Howell (5-2) took the loss, uncharacteristically walking seven in 3.1 innings, allowing seven runs – six earned – striking out one. Howell entered the game with 13 walks in 38 innings on the year, striking out 53.
The series will resume in the final game Sunday, at 3 p.m. ET at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. UK will send freshman right-hander Alex Meyer (1-2, 5.00 ERA) to the mound to face off with junior right-hander Adam Scott (1-1, 4.61 ERA). The game will be broadcast live 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.
The Wildcats started the game strong, plating on run without a hit in the first inning, but grounding into an inning-ending double play with the bases juiced. Howell struggled to find the strike zone in the first frame, tossing 27 pitches and just six strikes. Chad Wright led off with a four-pitch walk and Andy Burns got plunked by a pitch. Chris Bisson put runners on the corners with a fielder’s choice with Burns out at second. Gunner Glad loaded the bases with a walk and Chris Wade’s bases-loaded walk scored Wright. Keenan Wiley ended the inning with a sharply hit double play ball, turned nicely by Alabama to get out of the frame.
UK added to its lead with a run in the top of the third, making it 2-0 Kentucky. After Andy Burns grounded out to lead-off, Bisson worked a full-count walk, moving to second on a groundout from Glad. Wade followed and worked a full-count walk, with Bisson stealing third and Wade moving to second on a stolen base. Wiley scored Bisson, after Ross Wilson bobbled a grounder at second for an error, allowing the unearned run to plate.
In the top of the fourth inning, UK got five runs on three hits, chasing Howell from the game. Nidiffer started the inning off with a single through the left side and McClendon drew a walk. After a Troy Frazier sacrifice, Wright got hit by a pitch to load the bases for Burns. Burns drew an RBI walk to force home Nidiffer and re-load the bases for Bisson. Bisson belted his second career triple into the right-center field gap, emptying the bases for Glad. Glad scored Bisson with a single through the left side off Kebodeaux.
Alabama got its first run of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, plating an unearned run on two hits and a UK error. Brandon May led off the inning with a hopper to Bisson at second, but Bisson bobbled the ball, enabling May to reach first safely. Rusin responded to get Smith on a pop out and catcher Vin DiFazio singled through the left side. Wes Henderson loaded the bases with a bloop single off the handle into right field. With Alex Kubal at the plate, Rusin tossed a wild pitch that got under Nidiffer’s glove, allowing May to score. Rusin, who has only three wild pitches all season, struck out Kubal and got Dugas to ground out to Bisson to end the threat.
UK stretched its lead to 11-1 with four runs on five hits in the top of the seventh. After Glad lined out to center field, Wade and Wiley singled. Nidiffer scored Wade with his second hit of the game, a hard-hit base hit through the left side. McClendon followed and belted his second homer of the year deep into the count, a no-doubt blast to the deepest part of the park, dead center field.