WILMINGTON, N.C. -- After rallying from behind a run to take a 9-8 lead in the top of the ninth inning, Kentucky committed two errors on the left side of the infield, setting up a two-run walk-off single from Cameron Walter, lifting VMI to a 10-9 win over UK in the finale of the Hughes Brothers Invitational, on Sunday morning at Brooks Field on the campus of UNC Wilmington.
Kentucky (2-1) came out hot with two runs in each the first and second innings, before VMI cut into the lead with a three-run bottom of the second inning. UK added a run in the third and two runs in the fourth, before VMI reliever Taylor Edens – a member of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Watch List – and Jonathan Kelley helped the Keydets cruise through shutout frames in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
After a VMI run in the bottom of the fifth inning, UK took a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. VMI catcher Eric Mayers delivered the heroics with a three-run home run – his first career blast – off southpaw Matt Snyder, making his UK debut.
Kentucky entered the top of the ninth inning trailing 9-8, with VMI calling on Travis Thomas to try and close out the win. A.J. Reed led off the inning and smashed a line-drive grounder up the middle. Second baseman Jordan Tarsovich ranged to his right and made a diving snag of Reed’s hard-hit ball, narrowly getting the first out at first base after a throw from his knees. Matt Reida then drew a walk and pinch hitter Ka’ai Tom was hit by a pitch to put the go-ahead and tying runs on base. UK turned to fifth-year senior Micheal Thomas off the bench to pinch hit, driving a game-tying RBI single into left-centerfield. With JaVon Shelby at the plate, Micheal Thomas took off from first base, with Travis Thomas uncorking a wild pitch that allowed Tom to score the go-ahead run.
UK turned to sophomore right-hander Zach Strecker to attempt to close out the bottom of the ninth inning. Strecker got a first-pitch groundout to start the inning, before getting No. 3 hitter Red Dondell to hit a grounder right at Reida at shortstop. The ball slipped under Reida’s glove for an error, putting the tying run on base. Brandon Angus followed and hit a grounder to the left side of the infield, with Reida’s throw not strong enough to get the speedy Angus at first base. Strecker then got Will Connerley to hit into a tailor-made double play ball to UK third baseman Max Kuhn, who had dazzled in UK’s first two games defensively. Kuhn just misplayed the game-ending double play ball, loading the bases with one out for Walter. Walter got down in a 0-2 hole before fouling off a pair of pitches and watching a ball. On a 1-2 offering from Strecker, Walter singled up the middle, with the throw from UK centerfielder Austin Cousino not in time to nab Angus at the plate with the walk-off run.
The game ends a historic streak for the Kentucky bullpen, which had won 89 consecutive games when staked to an eighth inning lead, dating back to 2011. In Gary Henderson’s six years as head coach, the Wildcats have a 141-6 record when holding an eighth-inning lead.
UK starter Kyle Cody worked 3.1 innings, allowing three hits and three runs – two earned – walking two and striking out three. Junior right-hander Andrew Nelson worked 1.2 innings in his collegiate debut, allowing three hits and one run, striking out one. Sophomore Taylor Martin returned to the mound after missing 2013 due to injury, working 2.1 innings, allowing two hits and three runs, walking one and striking out one. Lefty Matt Snyder came on in a jam in the eighth, with two runners on and one out, allowing a three-run homer before getting two outs. Strecker (0-1) suffered the hard-luck loss, with UK’s defense putting him in a position to get as many as seven outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Strecker allowed two unearned runs, getting one out.
VMI starter Andrew Woods worked three innings, allowing seven hits and five runs – four earned – walking one and striking out four. Edens worked four strong innings for the Keydets, allowing one hit and two unearned runs, walking one and striking out four. Jonathan Kelley, a native of Wilmington, worked a perfect inning, with Travis Thomas (1-0) picked up the win after pitching the ninth inning.
The Wildcats totaled nine runs on nine hits, three steals and three hit batters. UK got the first home run of the year from Cousino, who went 2-for-4 with a walk. Reed also added a 2-for-4 game, with UK also getting hits from Shelby, Kuhn, Micheal Thomas and Kyle Barrett. Freshman Marcus Carson made his first career start, going 1-for-3 with a steal and two runs scored.
UK will return to action on Monday at 1 p.m. ET at USC Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with Dick Gabriel voicing the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WWTF 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky got on the board in the top of the first inning, as Barrett led off with a nine-pitch at bat before a groundout. Cousino followed with a single and Kuhn smashed a two-strike opposite-field double, pushing Cousino to third base. Thomas Bernal then rolled a grounder down the third base line, with Woods trying to flip it to the plate. Cousino slide in before the throw, with the ball sailing in the dirt and to the backstop, allowing Kuhn to motor home for UK’s second run.
UK plated two runs in the top of the second, as Carson led off the inning by smacking the first pitch of his NCAA career off the third-base bag for a double. Shelby followed and lofted a two-strike breaking ball into the right-centerfield gap, scoring Carson from second base. After a pair of outs, Cousino drilled a 3-1 offering from Woods over the right-centerfield fence for his first home run of the year.
VMI got on the board in a quirky bottom of the second inning, as David Geary drew a full-count walk and Mayers singled to leftfield on the first pitch. Tyler Tharp then laid down a sacrifice bunt to move two runners into scoring position, with Geary scoring on a wild pitch. Gary LeClair then grounded out to the right side to score Mayers. Tarsovich followed with a single to leftfield, stealing second base, with the throw from Fettes sailing into the outfield, allowing Tarsovich to motor to third base. On the throw in from the outfield, the ball bounced off the third base umpire, allowing Tarsovich to score from third.
UK answered with a run in the top of the third inning, as Carson got hit by a one-out pitch, stealing second base and scoring on Barrett’s single to centerfield with two outs.
In the top of the fourth, Kuhn led off by reaching on a fielding error, taking second on Reed’s opposite-field, two-strike single. Bernal followed with a sacrifice bunt, with the throw sailing down the rightfield line, allowing Kuhn to score and Reed to take third. Reida then grounded out down the first-base line, allowing Reed to score.
VMI got a run in the bottom of the fifth inning, as Nelson hit Tarsovich to lead off the inning, with Tarsovich stealing second base. Tanner Dofflemeyer then worked a 10-pitch at bat, singling in the infield to score Tarsovich from second base on a wicked hop at first base.
The Keydets rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, as Dondell drew a four-pitch walk to leadoff and Connerley singled to leftfield. Geary then singled through the left side to score Dondell to bring up Mayers. Mayers smashed a three-run homer over the leftfield fence, giving VMI an 8-7 lead.