With the game tied 10-10 entering the bottom of the fifth inning, Kentucky erupted for five runs – including the first career grand slam from freshman Braden Kapteyn – to clinch the Southeastern Conference series over Tennessee with a 17-11 win, on Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (24-23, 9-15 SEC) blasted a total of four home runs in the game, with Tennessee adding three homers in a back-and-forth slugfest. Kapteyn, Gunner Glad, Marcus Nidiffer and Keenan Wiley each homered, with Kapteyn, Glad and Chris Bisson totaling four RBI. Wiley finished with three RBI, with Nidiffer, Glad, Chad Wright and Andy Burns each scoring three runs. Burns drew a total of four walks in a game, a career high, with Nidiffer totaling three walks. Bisson’s three-RBI triple marked the third triple of the year for the Orleans, Ontario, native.
After Sunday’s league action, UK sits in ninth place overall in the conference standings 1.5 games back of Vanderbilt (10-13). The SEC take the top eight teams, based on winning percentage, to the SEC Tournament, held May 20-24 in Hoover, Ala. With the UK series win and Auburn’s (8-16) sweep at the hands of Ole Miss (16-8) over the weekend, UK moved past Auburn for sole possession of ninth place. During the weekend, South Carolina (12-12) moved from eighth to ninth place with a three-game sweep of the Commodores. UK holds the tie breaker over Vanderbilt, thanks to a series win in 2009 and South Carolina holds the tie breaker over the Wildcats, courtesy of a series win in Lexington in late March. Next weekend, UK hosts Auburn, Vanderbilt travels to Georgia (14-9), South Carolina faces UT in Knoxville and Mississippi State (6-17) faces Ole Miss in Oxford. As of 6:25 p.m. ET Sunday, all SEC teams had completed its respective weekend series, with the exception of Alabama at Mississippi State, with the final game of the series in Starkville slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET.
UK has now won six of the last seven and eight of the last 11 meetings between the two schools. The Wildcats trail the series 155-135, with UK holding a 71-69 mark in games played in Lexington. UK’s series win in Lexington over the Vols was its first since winning two of three games against UT in 2003. Last year, Kentucky swept UT in Knoxville.
Trailing by four runs going into the bottom of the second inning, Kentucky scored eight runs on five hits and a Tennessee error take a four-run lead. The inning was capped off by a three-RBI triple from Bisson and a three-run homer from Wiley. The Kentucky bullpen allowed four runs to score and the Vols to tie the game in the top of the fifth inning but would answer in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Tennessee brought in senior reliever Joey Rosas who walked the first batter he saw to load the bases for Kapteyn. The freshman from Lansing, Ill., sent a soaring line drive to right center field that easily cleared the tall right field wall and bounced into the parking lot. It was the first career grand slam for the designated hitter and his third home run of the year. Kapteyn last homered last Sunday against Alabama and the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder now has 20 RBI on the season.
UK used the long ball in the game, with Wiley’s bomb a key part of the eight-run second inning, while Nidiffer’s lead-off jack came with the game tied at 10 in the fifth inning. It was the Kentucky catcher’s sixth long ball of the season and his first since March 28 against South Carolina. Glad’s homer added all the insurance runs the Wildcats would need. It was the Tulsa, Okla., natives, eighth homer of the year and the first since the Evansville game on April 22. Glad leads the team with eight homers on the season and Bisson leads the Wildcats in RBI with 50.
Every Kentucky player that came to the plate recorded a hit except for one as the Wildcats posted 12 hits in the game, including nine walks and one Tennessee error. Wright and Bisson each posted three hits in the game with Wright going 3-for-6 and Bisson going 3-for-5 with four RBI. Glad also had a multi-hit game for the Wildcats going 2-for-3 with four RBI and two runs scored.
Kentucky used a three-player pitching effort to grab the win in the game, starting junior Clint Tilford. Although giving up four runs in the first inning, Tilford settled down nicely for the Wildcats only allowing two runs after the first. The native of Paducah, Ky., went four innings allowing five earned runs on six hits while walking three. He was replaced by sophomore Mike Kaczmarek who was charged three earned runs on three hits while walking one. The lefty did not record an out in the game and was relieved by Logan Darnell (5-5) who had his longest and best outing of his career. Darnell went five innings for Kentucky allowing one earned run on two hits, while only walking one and striking out four to pick up the win. After UK starting pitchers James Paxton and Chris Rusin combined to strike out 36 UT hitters in 15.1 innings Friday and Saturday, Darnell totaled all four of UK’s strikeouts Sunday.
Kentucky will take four days off for final exams before returning to action to host their final SEC home series of the season against Auburn. First pitch for Friday night will be at 6:30 p.m. ET, Saturday for 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. All games can be heard live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can catch the game on 630-AM WLAP and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM. UK’s Saturday and Sunday’s games with the Tigers will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (television), with Dick Gabriel, Doug Flynn and Ryan Lemond calling the action.
Tennessee (21-27, 7-17 SEC) started a rally in the first inning getting a leadoff single by Louisville native Zach Osborne. Tilford then got a line out for the first out, but walked a batter and committed a fielder error when he could not step on the bag at first to load the bases. Tennessee got its first run of the inning on a single to left field by Blake Forsythe, keeping the bases loaded for Cody Brown. The Tennessee third baseman would send a laser shot down the left field line that rolled into the corner scoring all three runners and giving UT a four run first-inning lead. The rally would continue as Tilford had a failed pickoff attempt to center field advancing Brown to third and walked Charley Thurber. The inning ended a few pitches later as Tilford got a 6-4-3 double play.
The Wildcats loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning when Troy Frazier hit a one-out single, Nidiffer walked and Wright hit a two-out infield single. Burns smashed a ground ball to the shortstop who could not gather it in, allowing Burns to reach first safely and giving Kentucky its first run of the game. Bisson came through for UK with a triple into right center field that cleared the bases knotting the game at four, his third triple of the year. Kentucky took the lead on the next at bat when Glad sent a single through the left side of the infield, scoring Bisson and bringing up Kapteyn. Tennessee turned to its bullpen bringing in Stephen McCray, who walked Kapteyn and gave up a devastating blow to Wiley who hammered a three-run home run to right center field giving UK a 8-4 lead. The inning ended when Frazier fouled out to right. The homer was Wiley’s fourth of the year, now giving him six career homers.
Tennessee answered in the third inning with the 18th home run of the year by Cody Hawn. With one out, Hawn took Tilford’s offering over the scoreboard in left center field cutting the Kentucky lead to three. The inning ended on a weird double play when a pop up to shallow left center field dropped in between McClendon and Burns, but the infield fly rule was in effect. The UT runner at second then tried to advance to third and was tagged out by Tilford.
UK rallied again in the third inning getting a one-out walk to Nidiffer and a single up the middle by Wright. Wright then stole a base during the at bat of Burns, who walked to load the bases. For the second time in the game, Bisson approached the plate with the bases loaded, delivering again with a RBI single to right field. Kentucky scored its second run of the inning on a deep sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Wright and allowing Burns to advance to third. After the play had seemed dead, Bisson noticed that Tennessee was not guarding second base, allowing Bisson to advance to second. Tennessee ended the rally bringing in Danny Wiltz who struck out Kaptyen to end the inning.
For the second consecutive inning, the Vols plated a run on a deep home run, this time a leadoff shot by Tyler Horne right over the 390-foot sign in deep center. It was Horne’s eighth homer of the year and cut the Kentucky lead to four.
The Volunteers closed the gap in the fifth inning when Kentrail Davis led off with an infield single and then Hawn doubled into right center field for his second RBI of the game against Kaczmarek. The rally continued as Kaczmarek walked Forsythe. Brown then sacrificed to the left side of the infield, reaching first when Kaczmarek could not field the ball loading the bases with no outs and Thurber coming up. With one swing of the bat, Thurber singled to right field scoring two and cutting the Kentucky lead to one. After Kaczmarek was replaced on the mound by Darnell, UT tied the game with an RBI single by Horne. The bases were loaded when Glad made an error trying to field a sacrifice bunt with the ball rolling under his glove. Darnell got the first out of the inning on a fly out to left field, then the second out on a fielder’s choice ground out to McClendon who threw home for the out. With two outs and the bases still loaded, Darnell got Davis to fly out to deep right field to end the inning with the game tied at 10-10.
UK regained the lead when Nidiffer leadoff the fifth with a monster home run to left center field. It was the sixth home run of the year for the junior and his first since the South Carolina series back in late March. Wright then singled up the middle on a line drive, advancing to second on a wild pitch. After Burns walked, Bisson came to the plate for the third time in the game with at least two runners on. The Kentucky second baseman flied out to left field for the first out of the inning. UT then went to the bullpen to bring in Rosas, who walked Glad, loading the bases for Kapteyn. The dynamic Kentucky freshman hit a monster grand slam to right center field, his third homer of the year, giving Kentucky a five-run lead. The inning ended on a lineout by Wiley and a groundout by Frazier.
Tennessee closed the lead to four with the second home run of the game by Forsythe. After Darnell got the first out of the inning on a great running catch in right center field by Wiley, Forsythe drilled a home run well over the left center field wall.
Kentucky added two more insurance runs in the seventh, getting a two-run round tripper from Glad. It was the eighth homer of the season for the native of Tulsa, Okla.