Owning a 9-0 lead after five innings, the Kentucky baseball team allowed No. 19 Alabama to plate 11 unanswered runs over the final four innings to post an 11-9 series-salvaging win over the Wildcats, on a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (21-12, 4-8 Southeastern Conference) won the series with a series opening 7-6 win Friday night and an 8-2 series-clinching victory Saturday evening. The Wildcats jumped out to a strong start, owning a 9-0 lead after plating one run in the third, two runs in the fourth and six runs in the fifth inning. Alabama plated five runs in the top of the sixth and five runs in the top of the eighth to take the lead, adding an insurance run in the top of the ninth inning.
The series win concludes the best week of the season for the Wildcats, who posted a dominating 5-0 win over state rival No. 7 Louisville on Tuesday night, before posting the series win over the 19th-ranked Crimson Tide. UK has played 14 total games against top 25 opponents, including the current stretch of facing 12 consecutive ranked foes.
UK had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth, after getting Braden Kapteyn to third base with one out, Keenan Wiley at first base and shortstop Taylor Black at the plate. Black took a called third strike for the second out and pinch hitter Lance Ray struck out swinging to end the UK threat. The Wildcats got a one-out double from All-American second baseman Chris Bisson in the bottom of the ninth inning, but a hard-hit lineout from Chad Wright and a looking strikeout by senior Gunner Glad ended the contest.
The nine-run Alabama comeback marks the largest in UA school history, dating back to at least the 1995 season, the last year game-by-game records were kept by the Crimson Tide. After the Alabama come-from-behind win, UK now owns an 18-2 record in 2010 when leading after seven innings.
A native of Paducah, Ky., Wright led UK offensively with a 3-for-6 game, charting a club-best three RBI, a day after missing his first game of the year due to a stomach illness. Glad and Kapteyn each charted three hits, with Glad adding an RBI and Kapteyn contributing two RBI. Wiley and Bisson each had two hits, along with senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer. Black belted his fourth home run of the season to leadoff the fourth frame, going 1-for-4 with two runs scored.
UK starting pitcher Alex Meyer turned in a splendid performance, going 5.1 innings and exiting in the sixth inning without allowing a run to score. Southpaw Mike Kaczmarek came on with the bases loaded and hit the first batter he faced in relief of Meyer and then allowed Alabama third baseman Jake Smith to hit a grand slam to cut the UK lead in half. Meyer finished the game allowing three hits and three runs in his 5.1 innings of action, walking three and striking out seven. Kaczmarek lasted one official inning, allowing two hits and two runs, striking out one, with the inherited runners scoring marking the first inherited runners allowed to score by the junior. Junior Nick Kennedy got one out and allowed two hits and three runs – two earned – before turning the game over to freshman right-hander Jordan Cooper (1-2) who allowed the three decisive runs on two hits. UK closer Matt Little blew his third save of the season in eight attempts, allowing five hits and one run in 1.1 innings of work, striking out two. The five hits allowed marked a career-high for Little, who had not allowed more than two hits in an outing this season. Kapteyn got the final out of the game on the bump for the Wildcats.
Alabama (21-11, 5-7 SEC) had a breakout game offensively from Smith, a preseason All-American who entered the game with a .233 average, one homer and 12 RBI in 31 games. A year ago, Smith belted 18 homers for the Tide and batted a team-high .359 with 54 RBI. Smith went 3-for-5 with four RBI in the game, with shortstop Josh Rutledge adding a three-hit outing.
Alabama freshman starter Taylor Wolfe (2-1) allowed six hits and one run in his 2.2 innings of work, walking one and striking out two. Tucker Hawley allowed two hits and two runs in his one out of work, while David Head gave up four hits and four runs in his one frame. Tyler White (3-2) picked up the win, going two shutout innings, with Nathan Kilcrease picking up his team-high second save of the year with the final two shutout innings, walking one, allowing two hits and striking out three.
UK will have the week off from midweek competition and will return to action with a three-game series with No. 8 Florida Friday-Sunday at Cliff Hagan Stadium. All games will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action.
The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead with a run in the bottom of the third inning. Glad singled into rightfield with two outs, moving to scoring position after Andy Burns drew a walk. Kapteyn score Glad with a hard-hit single into centerfield.
UK added two runs to its lead in the bottom of the fourth, taking a 3-0 lead. Black led off the inning with a high, towering home run over the left-field fence, his fourth of the season. Nidiffer followed and singled through the left side, moving to second on Neiko Johnson’s sacrifice bunt. After Bisson lined out, Wright doubled into left field for his team-best ninth two-bagger of the year, allowing Nidiffer to score.
Kentucky posted six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to stretch its lead to 9-0. Burns led off the inning with his second triple of the year, bounced high off the wall in leftfield. Kapteyn scored Burns with a single into centerfield and Wiley laid down a bunt single on the first-base line. With runners on first and second, Black attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt but the throw to first sailed high for an error, allowing two runs to score and Black to move to second base. Nidiffer was then hit by a pitch and Johnson notched his second sacrifice bunt of the game to move Nidiffer to scoring position. Wright then singled to leftfield to score one and Glad notched his second hit of the game with a base knock up the middle.
Alabama answered with five runs on just two hits in the top of the sixth, cutting the UK lead to 9-5. After Meyer sat through the long bottom of the fifth inning in the dugout, he issued a lead-off walk to Taylor Dugas and then Josh Rutledge singled up the middle. After getting Ross Wilson to fly out, Meyer walked Clay Jones to load the bases and end his pitching performance. UK turned to Kaczmarek, who immediately hit Jon Kelton with the first pitch he threw to force home Dugas. Jake Smith followed and belted a grand slam over the let-centerfield fence, Smith’s second career grand slam against UK. Kaczmarek struck out David Kindred and got Andrew Miller to fly out to end the Alabama inning.
Alabama continued its late-inning charge, plating five runs on five hits in the top of the eighth inning, taking a 10-9 lead. Kelton led off the inning with a double and Smith singled through the hole in the infield. David Kindred scored Kelton with a double down the right-field line and Andrew Miller reached on an infield single, scoring Smith. Brock Bennett then laid down a sacrifice bunt but Bisson dropped the ball as it hit his glove covering first base. Dugas then grounded out to second to score one run and Josh Rutledge gave UA the lead with a two-RBI single into left-centerfield.
The Crimson Tide got an insurance run in the top of the ninth, as Smith singled with one out, scoring on Andrew Miller’s infield single.