LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With No. 23 Kentucky down to its last out in a two-run hole in the bottom of the ninth inning, Kyle Barrett drilled a game-tying single up the middle and Zac Zellers followed with the walk-off, game-winning single into centerfield to score Matt Reida and lift the Wildcats to a dramatic 4-3 win over No. 14 Arkansas, on Saturday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (27-18, 10-14 Southeastern Conference) was down to its last out in the bottom of the ninth inning, looking to fight off a sweep at the hands of the red-hot Razorbacks. After Arkansas won the opener on Friday night, 2-1, and won the first game of the series-concluding doubleheader on Saturday, UK went into the bottom of the ninth inning in a 3-1 hole.
Freshman Greg Fettes, who hit his third homer of the year in the first game of the twinbill, led off the inning with a single off Arkansas lefty Trent Daniel, getting swapped at first base by speedy pinch runner Andrew Bryant. J.T. Riddle then drilled a line-drive single into leftfield, and after a popped up bunt attempt and a fly ball out, Reida came to the plate. Reida chopped a grounder at Arkansas freshman second baseman Jordan Farris, who bobbled the ball for a run-scoring error, allowing Riddle to motor to third base as the tying run. Barrett then jumped on the first-pitch from right-handed reliever Landon Simpson, smacking the game-tying single into centerfield to score Riddle and even the game at 3-3.
“When they kept the righty in, I knew I was going to tie the game,” Barrett said. “I had no doubt in my mind.”
That brought Zellers to the plate, with the senior getting UK’s previous lone run before the ninth inning on a solo homer in the first inning. Zellers fell behind 1-2 before singling into the middle of centerfield, allowing Reida to motor home with the walk-off run.
“I was pretty loose,” Zellers said about the final at bat. “We were able to come back and tie the game, so it wasn’t really a do-or-die situation. I was just looking for a pitch up.”
The dramatic win came against a blistering-hot Razorbacks team that entered the finale having won seven straight games and sporting the best ERA in college baseball, a staggering 1.79. Arkansas, which entered the series with a SEC-worst .959 fielding percentage, had fielded all 189 of its defensive chances on the weekend up until the Farris error with two outs in the ninth inning.
The Razorbacks had also retired all nine of their inherited runners in relief on the weekend, before the two decisive runs scored in the bottom of the ninth inning off the relievers. Every pitcher used by the Razorbacks during the weekend had an ERA below 2.35 when taking the Cliff Hagan Stadium mound.
The win improves Kentucky’s SEC-leading record in one-run games to 10-5. Over the last two years, UK has posted a 27-16 record in one or two-run games.
“It was really important, especially the win that we had,” Zellers said about the importance of a dramatic win. “Being able to come back, I think that’s good for us. It’s not the first time we’ve done it and it’s probably not going to be the last.”
Six-foot-7, 230-pound freshman right-hander Kyle Cody turned in a dominating gem in his first career SEC start, working his third quality start of the year. Cody worked seven innings, allowing just seven hits and three runs – one earned – walking three and striking out five. After the Razorbacks plated three runs on four hits and two UK errors in the first inning, Cody settled in to fire six shutout frames to conclude his outing.
“It didn’t go his way in the first,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “A lot of ground balls got through and then obviously we kicked two (errors) which was really disappointing and put him in a bad spot. And his rhythm was not great until probably the fourth inning. He never got command of his change-up at all, but he found his breaking ball, found some fastball rhythm. I’m really proud of Kyle’s effort and production.”
Cody allowed only three hits over his final six innings of work, with just one of his seven hits allowed in the game coming as a ball sailed into the outfield.
“I kind of took it as just another start,” Cody said. “I just went out there and did what I usually did and I knew that if I did that it would work. I just wanted to go out there and do a good job for the team. I just want to fulfill my role. I don’t know what it is yet, but I just want to do a good job and good thing today it went that way for me.”
UK used senior Walter Wijas for two outs in the eighth, with freshman lefty Ryne Combs getting the final out of the inning. UK sophomore right-hander Chandler Shepherd (4-0) worked a scoreless ninth inning for the win, giving him 2.2 shutout frames in a two-day span.
“That bullpen let us win a game 4-3,” Henderson said. “Kyle Cody let us win a game 4-3. And then obviously our position guys coming up and giving us competitive at-bats starting with Greg and J.T. to set the stage there. We could have rolled over after we popped up a bunt, but we didn’t. We came back and obviously we got a little bit of help, but after that we took care of it ourselves.”
The Wildcats were led at the plate by an eight-hit attack, with Barrett and Zellers each notching two-hit games. Zellers hit his third homer of the year, with UK also getting singles from Fettes, Riddle, Reida and Max Kuhn. UK’s four runs against the Razorbacks marked the first time since April 19 that Arkansas had allowed more than three runs in a game, a span of seven contests.
Arkansas (32-16, 15-8 SEC) starter Randall Fant worked 5.1 innings, allowing three hits and one run, walking two and striking out five. Lefty Michael Gunn inherited two runners in the sixth, getting out of the jam without any damage, working two shutout innings. Brandon Moore, Daniel and Simpson in relief, with Simpson (1-1) suffering the loss with the game-winning run in the ninth.
UK will return to action on Tuesday, hosting Wright State at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Arkansas opened the game with three runs in the top half of the first, two unearned. Joe Serrano reached base on an error to lead off the inning and advanced to third on a hit and run through the left side of the infield. A foul out down the rightfield line allowed Serrano to tag and score from third. Brian Anderson drove in Arkansas’ second run of the inning with a single through the right side, advancing Matt Vinson to third before he took home on an error in rightfield. Dominic Ficociello singled into rightfield to put two Razorbacks on with one out and Cody forced a fly out to Austin Cousino in centerfield for the second out of the inning. Jacob Mahan capped off the inning with an RBI single up the middle to score Anderson, Arkansas’ third run of the inning.
Zellers responded in the bottom of the first with a solo shot over the leftfield wall to bring the game to 3-1 through one.