HOOVER, Ala. -- Zach Arnold bounced a single to the left side of the drawn-in infield, scoring Matt Reida with the walk-off run and lifting Kentucky to a 12-inning marathon win over No. 17 Mississippi State, advancing UK to the Southeastern Conference Tournament Semifinals, on Thursday night in front of 8,501 at the Hoover Met.
Reida led off the bottom of the 12th inning with a double, his second of the game, and after a walk from pinch hitter Dorian Hairston and an intentional pass to Austin Cousino, the bases were loaded for Max Kuhn. MSU reliever Preston Brown got Kuhn to strike out swinging, bringing Marcus Carson – who had pinch ran for A.J. Reed in the ninth inning – to the plate. UK turned to Arnold, a sophomore reserve catcher, to pinch hit. Arnold smacked the first pitch he saw into the hole on the left side of the infield, with Reida motoring home to score the walk-off run.
The 12-inning tilt was an instant classic, as the two teams combined for 32 hits in a four hour and 36 minute tilt, with the two teams exchanging leads or seeing the game tied eight times. The game marked the longest, in terms of time, in SEC Tournament history.
“The game was an absolute war,” Reida said. “Mississippi State played an unbelievable game, so did we. We just kept coming at each other. It could’ve gone either way. There was such small margin of error. It came down to a couple close calls. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
Kentucky (35-22) fell behind 1-0 after allowing a run in the fourth inning, before senior catcher Micheal Thomas evened up the game with his eighth homer of the year in the bottom of the frame.
Mississippi State (37-21) then chased UK freshman starter Zack Brown in the fourth and plated two runs in the fifth inning. After adding a run in the sixth inning, UK chased MSU ace Ross Mitchell with a three-run rally in the sixth inning to tie the game. The Bulldogs rallied to load the bases with no outs in the seventh, getting a ground-ball double play to score the go-ahead run. UK answered with a run in the eighth inning to tie the game and had the go-ahead run on third with one out but couldn’t get it across.
The Bulldogs then scratched out the go-ahead run, scored as unearned, in the top of the ninth inning and went to the bottom of the frame with star closer Jonathan Holder on the bump. UK got a leadoff double from Reed to start the frame, with Ka’ai Tom forcing in the run with a sacrifice fly, promoting extra innings.
MSU then got the go-ahead run to third base in the top of the 10th inning with one out and leadoff hitter CT Bradford at the plate. Bradford lofted a fly ball into right-centerfield, with Cousino racing to get under the ball in the gap. Cousino snagged the ball and fired a strike on a line to Thomas, who caught it chest high and made the tag to end the 10th and keep the game even.
After a shutout top of the 11th, UK got its leadoff hitter on in the form of Kuhn, with Carson striking out swinging in an attempt to sacrifice Kuhn to second base. After Tom was hit by a pitch and Thomas struck out, Storm Wilson lined a single to the third baseman, Matthew Britton, who dove to his left and kept the ball in the infield, keeping the hopes alive for the Bulldogs. UK couldn’t get the walk-off run home in the 11th after Thomas Bernal flied out, stretching the game to the 12th.
With one out in the top of the 12th inning, Cody Brown singled up the middle, with Cousino attempting to throw behind Brown at first base after a hard turn. The throw sailed in the dirt and skidded to the wall, with Brown hustling to third base as the go-ahead run. UK brought the infield in to face pinch hitter Alex Detz. UK junior reliever Spencer Jack got a high chopper up the middle from Detz, with Reida ranging to his left, grabbing the ball chest high and firing a strike to Thomas, who executed another great tag to keep the game tied. Jack then got a strikeout of slugging Wes Rea to end the top of the 12th inning.
With the win, Kentucky advances to the SEC Tournament Semifinals for the second time in the last three years, also earning a day off on Friday. UK, which has wins over No. 24 Alabama and No. 7 Florida the first two days of the tourney, will now face the winner of MSU and UF, with that game slated for Friday night. UK and the winner of that game will face off in the semifinals on Saturday, slated for 30 minutes following the conclusion of the first game of the day, which starts at 1 p.m. ET.
UK has won three games in the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1996, equaling a school record, also done in 1995.
“The fight was outstanding,” UK head coach Gary Henderson, who won his fifth SEC Tournament game in three years, said. “It wasn’t terribly clean a few different times, but I thought the fight and the competitiveness and the spirit was outstanding. I am really proud of that.”
The semifinal game will be televised nationally on ESPNews and it will also be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
The Wildcats collected 16 hits in the game, with Reida leading the charge with a career-high 4-for-6 day. UK also got three hits from Thomas, who belted a game-tying homer. Thomas was 3-for-5 with a walk and RBI, with his homer snapping Mitchell’s streak of 24.2 consecutive innings pitched without allowing an earned run, and marking his eighth of the year. It marked the fifth game-tying, or go-ahead homer, of the year for Thomas and improved UK to 8-0 when its fifth-year senior catcher homers.
UK also got a two-hit game from Tom, Bernal and Wilson, with UK also getting hits from Kuhn, Reed and Arnold. Cousino drew a walk and Carson scored the game-tying run, with Kyle Barrett forcing in a tying run with a RBI groundout.
A native of Seymour, Ind., Brown – making his second career start against an SEC foe – worked 3.2 innings, allowing four hits and one run, walking three and striking out one. Sam Mahar came on in a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fourth, getting an out to escape the threat. Mahar worked one inning, allowing four hits and two runs. Zach Strecker worked 3.1 innings, allowing four hits and two runs, walking one and striking out one. Jack (4-1) picked up the win with four strong innings, allowing just one unearned run, surrendering four hits and striking out one, lowering his ERA to 1.19.
MSU dynamic starter Ross Mitchell worked 5.1 innings, allowing eight hits and four runs, walking two and not recording a strikeout. Ben Bracewell came on in a two on, two-out jam in the sixth, working one inning, allowing one hit. MSU used Vance Tatum, Myles Gentry and Holder in relief. Holder, considered one of the top closers in the nation, worked four innings, allowing four hits and one run, striking out five. Preston Brown (4-3) took the loss, after opening the 12th inning, allowing the decisive run on two hits and two walks.
Mississippi State (37-21) got on the board in the fourth inning, taking a 1-0 lead on three walks and a single. Pirtle led off the inning with a single to leftfield, taking third on a pair of groundouts and scoring on a wild pitch.
UK immediately answered, as Thomas smacked a one-out pitch over the leftfield fence, evening up the game at 1-1. The homer was the eighth of the year for Thomas, who has five game-tying or go-ahead homers on the year.
MSU regained the lead in the top of the fifth inning, as Bradford led off with a single to leftfield, taking second on a sac bunt. After the second out, Seth Heck singled into right-centerfield, scoring Bradford for a 2-1 lead. After a balk pushed the runners up a base, Brown singled off the glove of a diving Bernal at first base, allowing Heck to score.
The Bulldogs tacked on in the sixth inning, as Rea and Britton led off with singles, advancing a base on a sac bunt. Jake Vickerson then lofted a fly ball into foul ground for a sacrifice fly, scoring Rea from third base.
UK mounted a rally in the bottom of the sixth, as Reed drew a walk to leadoff the frame. Tom then doubled down the rightfield line on a high chopper, with Reed scoring on the throw to second base from rightfield. Thomas then singled and took second on a passed ball to put two on and no outs for Wilson. Wilson hung a sac fly to leftfield, scoring Tom, with Thomas advancing to third. With the infield in, Bernal singled off the glove of the diving shortstop, allowing Thomas to plate the game-tying run.
MSU regained the lead in the top of the seventh inning, as Heck and Gavin Collins led off with singles and a walk to Brown loaded the bases. Demarcus Henderson then grounded into a double play to allow Heck to score, with Strecker then getting a fly out to escape further damage.
UK appeared to tie the game up in the bottom of the seventh inning, with Wilson beating out the back-end of a base-loaded, one-out double play, but the first-base umpire called Wilson out on the play.
The Wildcats did tie the game in the eighth inning, as Bernal fought off some two-strike offerings to draw a leadoff walk, with Reida moving him to third with his first key double of the game. UK then pinch hit for Shelby against Holder, with Barrett grounding out up the middle to tie the game at 4-4.