LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Trailing by five runs entering the bottom of the sixth inning, Kentucky plated four runs in the frame, got a game-tying homer from Austin Cousino in the eighth inning and a walk-off single from Ka’ai Tom in the 10th to complete a 6-5 comeback win over Auburn, in the 2014 home finale, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (30-20, 12-15 Southeastern Conference) found itself in a five-run hole after five innings, with the Tigers getting a four-run rally in the second and a run in the fourth. UK then plated four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to get within striking distance, with Cousino’s two-out RBI double plating UK’s fourth run.
With one out in the eighth inning Auburn was using centerfielder Ryan Tella – who in the seventh inning worked out of a bases-loaded, no out jam with three consecutive strikeouts – in relief in his second career pitching appearance. Cousino turned on Tella’s breaking ball with one out in the eighth, belting off the foul pole down the rightfield line for the game-tying blast. It was Cousino’s fourth homer of the year and his first game-tying blast of the year.
Tella’s gutsy outing continued through the ninth inning, his fourth inning of work. UK got a leadoff single in the bottom of the 10th inning from JaVon Shelby, who took second on Cousino’s perfect sacrifice bunt. After a fly out, A.J. Reed – the NCAA leader in homers, slugging and OPS – was intentionally walked for the career-high fourth time in the game.
"Everyone in the stadium knew that A.J. was going to get walked," Tom said. "So I just kept taking deep breaths and stuck to what I do."
Tom pulled the first pitch he saw through the right side, scoring Shelby from third base for the game-winning run.
"I think everyone knew that he was going to walk us off there," Cousino said. "It took - I don't know how many home games we had - until a walk-off. ... Ka’ai's been hitting the ball well and you just kind of knew. I think everyone in the park knew it was over once they walked A.J."
The Wildcats were led at the plate by Cousino, who went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBI. Thomas Bernal also went 2-for-4 with a walk. UK got the four-walk game from Reed, with seniors Micheal Thomas and Matt Reida each drawing key walks. Tom, Kuhn, Shelby and Storm Wilson each added hits.
UK’s win was its first walk-off win of the year and its third extra-inning game of the season. UK last played extra innings on March 15 in the rubber match at Alabama to open SEC play.
"To be able to be down five going into the bottom of the sixth, we come back and chip away and then leave some base runners on there in the seventh, I believe it was," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "That showed some real resilience from our kids. Really proud of them."
The win for Kentucky marks its 30th of the year, with UK winning 30 or more games in three consecutive seasons for the first time since a record four straight seasons from 1991-94. UK has won 30 or more games 16 times in program history, with four coming under the direction of UK head coach Gary Henderson.
UK sophomore starter Dylan Dwyer allowed three hits and four runs in two innings, walking three and striking out one. Sophomore Kyle Cody came on to start the third inning, working three innings, allowing four hits and one run, walking two and striking out one. Sam Mahar took over with a runner on in the sixth, retiring all five hitters he faced in 1.2 innings, striking out one. With two outs in the seventh, Andrew Nelson came on in relief. Nelson worked a shutout inning, allowing a hit and striking out one. Logan Salow came on to get the final out in the eighth, inducing a groundout to escape the frame.
UK then turned to Spencer Jack to start the ninth in a tie game. Jack (3-1) turned in a clutch outing, working two shutout innings, including wiggling out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the ninth inning, getting a key strikeout and a grounder to end the threat.
"I think just getting ahead of batters, just forcing them to put it in play because we got a good defense behind us," Jack said. "If we can just pound the strike zone, we're pretty confident that we're going to come out with the W. The way we won it was huge because we definitely needed a boost of morale. For us to put up a ton of zeroes and answer back at the same time, it's exactly what we needed."
All told, UK’s bullpen worked the final eight innings in the game, allowing only one run. It marked the second straight start that UK’s starting pitcher didn’t make it past two innings, as UK used the combination of Ryne Combs, Taylor Martin and Zack Brown to toss the final seven innings on Saturday, allowing just one earned run.
Auburn (27-25, 10-17 SEC) starter Keegan Thompson – the preseason Baseball America SEC Freshman of the Year – tossed a strong start for the Tigers, a day after Dillon Ortman improved to 9-3 with seven one-run innings. Thompson worked five shutout innings, allowing just three hits and three walks, striking out seven. Jay Wade took over with two runners on the sixth inning, allowing a pair of runs. Trey Cochran-Gill worked one inning, allowing two hits and a walk, loading the bases with no outs in the seventh. Auburn then turned to its centerfielder, Ryan Tella, who struck out the side in his second career pitching appearance.
"When your only scouting report is the eight warm-up pitches that the guy takes, that's a little bit different than what we're usually working with," Henderson said.
Tella (0-1) suffered the loss despite dazzling on the mound, allowing two runs on three hits in 3.2 innings, walking three and striking out five, the most strikeouts for an Auburn reliever in 2014.
Kentucky will return to action on Tuesday, traveling to Paducah, Ky., to face off with Murray State at 7 p.m. ET at Brooks Stadium.
"Well, it was a big win, that's for sure," Cousino said. "Everybody knew coming in that we needed to win this one. Now that's it's over, we're looking forward. Obviously a huge series win, but now we gotta go down to Paducah and beat Murray and finish this thing up."
Auburn took a lead in the top of the second inning, as Damek Tomscha singled through the left side and Ryan Tella drew a walk. Jordan Ebert then walked, despite trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt, to load the bases for Thompson. Thompson hit a hard liner off the lip of the infield grass on the right side, with Shelby making a diving play to snag the ball but attempted to get the runner at second, who was safe, allowing Tomscha to score. Dan Glevenyak then hit into a fielder’s choice, beating out the back end of the double play, allowing Tella to score. After a pop up, Anfernee Grier singled down the leftfield line, scoring Ebert and Glevenyak for a four-run lead.
The Tigers added a run in the fourth on a leadoff single from Ryan Tella and a two-out double from Glevenyak.
UK got on the board in the sixth inning, chasing Thompson from the game and cutting it to 5-4. Tom led off the inning getting plunked by a pitch, taking third on Bernal’s double to leftfield. After Wilson was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Thomas drew a full-count walk to force in UK’s first run of the game. Reida then chopped a grounder up the middle, with it going as an error to allow Bernal to score. Shelby then hit into a double play, with Wilson coming around to score on the grounder. Cousino then delivered a two-out, RBI double down the leftfield line, scoring Thomas.
Cousino evened up the game in the eighth inning with his solo homer, the fourth of the year for the UK preseason All-America centerfielder.
"(Brad) Bohannon actually talked to me right before that and said, 'Why don't you get back to slapping some stuff up the middle?' " Cousino said. "I was like, 'Nah, we're going to get one out here. I haven't hit one in a while.' I told A.J. I was going to get one today."