With No. 1 Kentucky holding a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh, the Wildcats narrowly missed a diving two-out snag in shallow centerfield that rolled to the wall and allowed a bases-clearing triple, with No. 9 Arkansas holding on for an 8-7 win in the series-opener in front of an electric 9,287 fans on a gorgeous Friday night at Baum Stadium.
Kentucky (30-5, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) entered the bottom of the seventh inning with holding a narrow 7-5 lead in front of a sell-out crowd at Baum Stadium. With two outs and the bases loaded, Derick Bleeker ripped a line drive on a 1-2 count into shallow centerfield. Austin Cousino – who has made a name for himself as one of the top freshmen in college baseball and as a lock-down defender in centerfield – made a diving attempt at snagging the final out of the frame and just missed, with the ball rolling all the way to the 400-foot wall in centerfield, the bases clearing and the Razorbacks taking an 8-7 lead. Throughout the season, Cousino has dazzled in centerfield with his staggering defensive ability, leading UK with seven outfield assists and making diving snags routine. His fully extended, leaping attempt fell just short of putting UK in position for the series-opening win.
In a back-and-forth game that saw Arkansas jump out to an early lead, UK rally to take the lead, before the Razorbacks took a 4-2 lead after three frames. UK rallied with four runs in the fourth, adding a run in the sixth, with Arkansas getting the big game-winning hit in the seventh.
The one-run loss was just the second for the Wildcats in 11 hotly contested games, as UK owns a 9-2 mark in one-run games and a 10-2 record in one or two-run contests in 2012. UK’s five losses this year have all come at the hands of top-25 opponents, with the Wildcats boasting a 7-5 mark against top-25 foes.
The Wildcats appeared in position for the series-opening win before the three-runs in the bottom of the seventh from the Razorbacks. UK totaled 11 hits in the game, led by Thomas McCarthy’s 3-for-4 outing with two RBI and two doubles. Cousino’s 2-for-4 game with two RBI helped spark the lineup, with UK also getting two hits from Luke Maile and Matt Reida. A.J. Reed also recorded a hit with two RBI, while Michael Williams added a single. Zac Zellers drew a walk. Defensively, UK turned three double plays, including two to get UK out of innings.
UK starter Taylor Rogers worked a season-low four innings, allowing seven hits and five runs, walking three and striking out two. Walter Wijas took over for Rogers after a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the fifth inning, getting an out and an inning-ending double play. Wijas worked two innings, getting inning-ending double plays in both frames, walking one without allowing a run. Senior Alex Phillips (5-1) took over to start the seventh inning, suffering his first loss of the year as the three-run triple was credited to him. Phillips worked two innings, allowing two hits and three runs, walking one and striking out two.
Arkansas (25-8, 8-5 SEC) starter Ryne Stanek (6-1), a preseason All-America starting pitcher and a member of Team USA’s collegiate national team, worked a season-low 3.1 innings, allowing eight hits and six runs, walking two and striking out six. Cade Lynch (1-1) replaced Stanek in the fourth and turned in the winning effort. Lynch saved the Arkansas bullpen with 5.2 innings, allowing only three hits and one run, walking one and striking out four.
The series will resume on Saturday at 3:05 p.m. ET at Baum Stadium, with the final two games now slated for a doubleheader with rains forecast for Sunday in Fayetteville. Following the first game, the two teams will finish the series 30 minutes following the finale out. The games will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, available on WLAP 630-AM in Central Kentucky, on WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville and online at UKathletics.com. UK will send junior lefty Jerad Grundy (3-1, 4.32 ERA) to face sophomore righty Barrett Astin (2-2, 0.84 ERA).
Tim Carver led off the bottom half of the first inning with his ninth double of the year, lacing a 0-1 pitch into the gap. Jacob Mahan then moved Carver to third base with a productive first out and preseason All-American Dominic Ficociello grounded out on a 3-2 pitch to shortstop, allowing Carver to score the first run of the game.
The Wildcats answered in the top of the third inning, as Reida led off with a first-pitch single up the middle. After a strikeout for the first out, McCarthy ripped a one-out double into the gap, his 10th of the year, pushing Reida to third base. Reed then smacked a single up the middle, allowing Reida to score easily and McCarthy to beat the high throw from centerfield for a 2-1 UK lead.
Arkansas regained the lead in the bottom of the third inning, as Jacob Morris ripped a double to leftfield, scoring after Carver lined a single to rightfield. After Rogers got a strikeout for the first out, Ficociello painted a triple down the opposite-field line, scoring Carver from first base and giving Arkansas the lead. Matt Reynolds then scored Ficociello with an RBI groundout to shortstop, making it 4-2 Arkansas.
The Wildcats plated four runs on four hits to take a lead in the fourth inning, chasing Stanek from the game. Zellers led off the frame with a four-pitch walk, taking second on a one-out single from Williams to centerfield. Reida then smacked his second hit in as many at bats, lining a knock through the right side to load the bases for Cousino. Cousino smashed a double off the wall in rightfield, narrowly missing his first career grand slam. With the runners holding to see if the ball was caught in right field, Cousino was held with a double, with Reida stopping at third, with Zellers and Williams scoring. After Reida scored on a passed ball, McCarthy hung a sacrifice fly into leftfield, allowing Cousino to score.
The Razorbacks immediately answered in the fourth inning, as Brian Anderson singled up the middle with one out and Jake Wise followed with a single to centerfield. After a fly out for the second out, Carver notched his third hit in as many at bats, a line-drive single over the leaping UK shortstop’s glove, scoring Anderson from second base.
UK added a run to its lead with two hits in the sixth inning, as Cousino reached on a gorgeous drag bunt down the first base line, his fourth bunt single of the year. McCarthy then drilled a one-out double into the gap in left-centerfield, scoring Cousino from first base for a 7-5 UK lead.
Arkansas rallied in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Phillips hit Morris with a 0-2 pitch to leadoff the frame and Carver collected his career-high fourth hit of the game. After a two-strike sacrifice bunt from pinch hitter Joe Serrano, Phillips got Ficociello swinging for a big out. After intentionally walking All-America slugger and Team USA standout Matt Reynolds to load the bases, Bleeker lined a shallow hit into centerfield, with Cousino’s diving effort missing with the ball rolling to the wall. All three runs scored, with Bleeker’s attempt at an inside-the-park homer thwarted at the plate with a strong throw from Cameron Flynn and J.T. Riddle.