LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Trailing by five runs and down to its last out in the bottom of the ninth, No. 13 Kentucky got a grand slam from A.J. Reed and loaded the bases for a second time in the frame but Tennessee got a fly out to the gap and escaped with a 10-9 win to even the series, on a pleasant Saturday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (24-10, 7-7 Southeastern Conference) allowed UT to jump out to an early 2-0 lead in the third inning, before rallying two even the game in the bottom half of the inning. The Vols then used three consecutive two-out hits in the fourth to plate two runs and chased UK starter Jerad Grundy in the fifth with four straight hits to open the frame.
UT stretched its lead to 9-4 with three runs in the eighth and after UK got a run in the eighth, the Vols got an insurance run in the top of the ninth for a 10-5 lead.
Kentucky started a rally in the ninth that threatened the game, as Matt Reida and Zack Storm led off with walks. After a groundout from Kyle Barrett and a pop out from Zac Zellers, Austin Cousino was hit by a pitch to load the bags for Reed. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound left-handed hitter smacked a 1-0 offering from UT closer, Trevor Bettencourt, over the fence in leftfield, cutting the UT lead to 10-9. Bettencourt then walked J.T. Riddle and Max Kuhn kept hope alive with an infield single.
UT called upon freshman infielder Jeff Moberg, who had not yet thrown a pitch in his collegiate career, out of the bullpen with two outs, the bases loaded and the Vols holding a 10-9 lead in the bottom of the ninth. His first NCAA pitch plunked Micheal Thomas to load the bases for Reida, who started the ninth with his leadoff walk. Reida worked the count to 2-1 and drilled a liner into the gap in right-centerfield that was hauled in on the run to secure the Tennessee win.
The Wildcats were limited to six hits in the game, plating nine runs with five walks and five hit batters. UK got the homer from Reed, his team-high ninth of the year, and two-hit games from Thomas and Kuhn, with Kuhn belting his third homer of the year. Zellers added a hit and two RBI, with Reida scoring a pair of runs, Kyle Barrett driving in a run and J.T. Riddle adding an RBI. Cousino scored a run, with Storm – making his first career SEC start – drawing a pair of walks.
Grundy (5-4) suffered the loss in his third consecutive start, allowing six runs on nine hits in four innings, walking two and striking out seven. Sophomore Chandler Shepherd came on in relief, working 3.1 innings, allowing three hits and three runs, striking out one. Senior Walter Wijas came on with an out in the eighth, getting out of the inning, with freshman lefty Dylan Dwyer getting an out in the ninth and allowing a run. Freshman Zach Strecker got the final two outs of the top of the ninth.
Tennessee (15-18, 4-10 SEC) starter Nick Williams (2-2), the brother of former UK great Michael Williams, picked up the win. The junior right-hander worked seven strong innings, allowing four hits and four runs – two earned – walking two and striking out six. Trevor Charpie got an out in the eighth, before Bettencourt took over, looking for the five-out save. Bettencourt worked 1.1 innings, allowing two hits and four runs, with Moberg getting his first career save with the final out.
The series will conclude on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. UK will send junior southpaw Corey Littrell (4-1, 2.72 ERA) to face off with UT ace right-hander Zack Godley (2-4, 3.77 ERA), a member of the 2012 USA Collegiate National Team.
Tennessee took an early lead with two runs in the top of the third. Following a leadoff strike out, Parker Wormsley singled to centerfield for the Vols and moved to second on a hit by pitch. A.J. Simcox singled through the right side to load the bases for Tennessee with one out. Grundy struck out the next batter but Stewart singled into rightfield to score the first two runs of the afternoon.
Kentucky matched Tennessee’s two runs in the bottom half of the inning, led off by a double down the leftfield line from Thomas. A throwing error from the shortstop allowed Matt Reida to reach first and Thomas to move over to third. Zack Storm walked to load the bases and a fielder’s choice scored Thomas and put runners on first and second with one out. Zellers executed for the Wildcats with a deep fly out to centerfield, allowing Reida to tag and score from third.
A two-out rally in the top of the fourth added two more runs for Tennessee. Wormsley got the rally started, singling into leftfield with two outs. A single from Maddox through the right side moved Wormsley over to third and Will Maddox advanced to second on the throw to third. Simcox knocked the Vols third consecutive singles with a liner up the middle to bring home Wormsley and Maddox.
Christin Stewart opened the fifth inning with a walk to reach first and advanced to third on a Pierce Bily single into rightfield. Vincent Jackson doubled into right-centerfield, scoring Stewart and leaving runners on second and third with no outs. With Tennessee threatening, UK called upon Shepherd from the bullpen. The Vols brought in one more run as Taylor Smart singled up the middle but Shepherd left one stranded on third with a 1-6-3 double play and ground out. Tennessee had a 6-2 lead through five and a half.
Thomas led off another scoring inning with a hit for Kentucky in the bottom of the fifth. Storm was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second with one out for the Wildcats. After a strikeout, Zellers singled into leftfield to bring home Thomas from second and decrease Tennessee’s lead to 6-3.
Kuhn brought in another run for Kentucky in the bottom of the sixth, knocking a solo homerun over the leftfield wall.
Smart led off the top of the eighth with a single through the left side and moved over to second on a stolen base. Houser hit a fly ball to leftfield and the strong wind carried the ball, causing Zellers to misplay it and allow Smart to score from second and Houser to reach second. A sac bunt moved David Houser to third and Maddox brought him home with a double off the rightfield wall. With Wijas taking over on the mound, Simcox singled up the middle to score Maddox from second and give the Vols a 9-4 lead.
Kentucky loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the eighth after a walk and two batters hit by a pitch but was only able to bring home one run. Zellers tagged and scored on a line out to centerfield from Riddle but the other two runners would be left stranded as Kentucky headed into the final inning down 9-5.
UT added a run in the ninth on a leadoff walk and two hits.