Freshman Walter Wijas made his first career start and combined with fellow freshman Jordan Cooper to handcuff No. 7 Florida to two runs over the first six innings, helping lead No. 30 Kentucky to a 6-5 win, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (22-14, 5-10 Southeastern Conference) was without sophomore pitcher Alex Meyer, UK’s usual Sunday starter due to illness. After exhausting its bullpen in the first two games of the series, Kentucky entered the Sunday game without an idea as to who would take the mound to start the contest. UK turned to Wijas, a freshman right-hander with 8.2 innings and seven relief appearances in his career entering the game. Wijas, a native of Elk Grove Village, Ill., turned in a gem, retiring the first 10 hitters he faced, carrying a perfect game into the fourth inning. In the top of fourth, Wijas allowed his first hit, giving up a single and a double to start the frame. In all, Wijas went a career-long 3.1 innings, allowing three hits and one earned run, while walking one and striking out three.
Wijas was replaced on the mound by Cooper, who threw three strong innings in relief to pick up the win, allowing two hits, one run and striking out three. The Wildcats used Joe Devine and Mike Kacazmarek in situational spots in the seventh inning with Devine striking out the right-handed swinging Cody Dent and Kaczmarek walking the left-handed hitting Nolan Fontana. Kennedy would record the final out of the seventh inning and pitch a scoreless eighth before putting a runner on with one out in the ninth by a hit by pitch. UK head coach Gary Henderson then turned to closer Matt Little with one out and the tying run on deck. Little allowed a two-run homer, from All-SEC second baseman Josh Adams, to cut the UK lead to one but got Preston Tucker to groundout to second to end the game. Kennedy ended the game with 1.2 innings pitched, one hit and two runs, while Little was credited with 0.2 innings pitched and one run on two hits, notching his sixth save of the season.
The Wildcats exploded for a 6-0 lead after three innings, plating three in the first, two in the second and one run in the third inning. Lance Ray led the way for the Wildcats, going a perfect 3-for-3 with a walk, with his three hits marking a new career high. Preseason All-American second baseman Chris Bisson notched two hits, while Cory Farris and Taylor Black each contributed multi-hit games. Sophomore leftfielder Chad Wright charted his team-best 10th double of the year and Farris led the RBI charge with a club-best two runs driven in. Wright extended his hitting streak to a season-high nine games, with senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer stretching his hitting streak to six games, also a season-best.
UF starter Anthony DeSclafani (2-2) was pulled in the third inning, allowing six earned runs on eight hits while also walking one and striking out none to pick up the loss. Steven Rodriguez was terrific for the Gators out of the pen, going five scoreless innings with only four hits and two walks. Rodriguez struck out five Wildcat batters in the game. Chas Spottswood finished the game for Florida, going 0.2 innings with no hits and no runs and one strikeout.
UK will return to action Tuesday, traveling to face No. 18 Western Kentucky at the Bowling Green Ballpark, the home field of the Bowling Green Hot Rods, the low Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. First pitch for the game is set for 7 p.m. ET. The game can be heard on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM. Both teams have yet to announce a starting pitcher. The Hilltoppers beat the Wildcats 6-3 earlier this season at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Wildcats scored first for the second time in the series, getting a RBI double from Wright. After Bisson led off the inning with a single to the left side of the infield, Wright hit a laser down the third baseline that just got went over the bag fair to easily score Bisson. After a walk to Gunner Glad and an Andy Burns lineout, Keenan Wiley reached on a fielder’s choice and advanced to second on a wild pitch, putting runners on second and third with two outs for Farris. Farris would come through, grounding a double down the right field line to score Glad and Wiley and give the Cats a 3-0 lead.
Kentucky started another rally in the second inning, getting a leadoff single by Ray and then a picture perfect hit-and-run by Black, advancing Ray to third and putting runners on the corners for Bisson. Bisson would place a swinging bunt in front of the mound, scoring Ray and allowing Bisson to reach first safely. After a Wright groundout to first, Glad grabbed an RBI on a sacrifice fly to leftfield, giving Kentucky a 5-0 lead. Florida got out of the jam with a fancy play by shortstop Fontana, diving to his left to field a grounder from Burns for the third out.
UK chased DeSclafani from the game in the third inning after a leadoff single by Wiley and then an infield single Farris. Nidiffer sacrificed both runners into scoring position and after the Gators relieved DeSclafani for Rodriguez, Black laid an RBI single to leftfield to score the Wildcats only run in the inning.
The Gators started to hit in the fourth inning, giving up a leadoff single and double to put runners on second and third for Austin Maddox, who walked to load the bases. Matt den Dekker ended the scoreless outing by Wijas with a single off the right-field wall, running Wijas out of the game for Cooper. With Ben McMahan batting, Cooper got a hard-hit ball to third with Burns fielding and throwing to second to start a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play.
Florida cut the UK lead to four with a solo homer from Tucker. After Cooper got two quick outs to start the sixth, Tucker sent a shot to deep centerfield, just clearing the centerfield wall to make it 6-2 Wildcats.
Maddox did the damage for Florida again in the eighth inning, sending a low liner just over the wall in right-centerfield. Kennedy got a groundout to start the frame but then allowed the homer to Maddox, his SEC leading 12th of the year, to cut the UK lead to three. Kennedy got out of the inning with another groundout to first and a foul out to Nidiffer.
The Gators rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth inning off a two-run homer by Adams to right field. The wind-aided bomb by Adams was a lazy fly down the right-field line that just sneaked over the short porch.