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Cousino walk-off gives No. 8 baseball series win

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino drilled a walk-off single with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, lifting No. 8 Kentucky to a 4-3 win in the rubber match over No. 14 Mississippi State, in the second game of the doubleheader, on Saturday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

Kentucky (18-5, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with the game locked at 3-3 since a Hunter Renfroe game-tying homer in the fifth inning. Freshman rightfielder Kyle Barrett doubled off the diving glove of MSU leftfielder Demarcus Henderson, with pinch hitter Jeff Boehm drawing an intentional walk. After a strikeout on a sacrifice bunt attempt, junior shortstop Matt Reida drew a 3-1 walk to load the bases with one out for Cousino.

“Just get the guy in,” Cousino said about his mindset in the ninth inning. “I wasn’t trying to do too much. I just really wiped away what happened early in the game. I knew that if I could get up, I could get him in.”

The preseason SEC Player of the Year entered the at bat 1-for-his-last-16, just after a 7-for-13 outing during UK’s SEC opening series win at Florida last weekend. The Dublin, Ohio, native smacked a hard-hit single off the first-base bag against Bulldog star closer Jonathan Holder – with the MSU infield playing in – allowing Barrett to motor home from third base and give UK a 4-3 win.

“Austin’s a really good player, good players rise to the moment most of the time," UK head coach Gary Henderson said.

The UK pitching staff limited Mississippi State – the SEC’s leading offensive club and NCAA’s second-ranked team in hits – to four hits and three runs in the game.

Junior starter Corey Littrell worked seven innings, allowing only two hits and three runs – one earned – walking six and striking out four. Littrell battled through wildness, with his career-high six walks, but allowed only a single and a solo homer to the slugging Renfroe. It marked the 10th rubber match for Littrell in the last two years, with the lefty owning a 7-0 record and a 1.85 ERA in those 10 outings, all UK wins.

“He certainly wasn’t as sharp, but we cost him some pitches there,” Henderson said about Littrell. “His maturity continues to get better and better. I thought he competed really well.”

“I was a little wild early and then the defense made errors, but the biggest thing for me was knowing that I’ve been in that situation before. I know I can find it at any moment,” Littrell said. “We are extremely confident because we’ve been in this situation before. We know that we’re not going to win every game. We’re going to lose again because it’s baseball, but we’re confident and we know that if we play the way we know how, we’ll come out successful.”

Senior Walter Wijas (2-0) took over in the eighth inning, working the final two shutout innings for the win, allowing two singles and striking out three. In his four-year career, over 64 appearances, Wijas owns an 8-0 record.

The dynamic MSU pitching staff limited the Wildcats to just three hits in the game, as the two clubs combined for seven hits. Cousino, Barrett and Max Kuhn each got hits for UK, with J.T. Riddle and A.J. Reed drawing two walks each. Boehm, Reida and Zac Zellers each added walks, part of an eight-walk attack.

The win for the Wildcats was their first doubleheader chance of the year, as UK posted a 3-2 win in the early game and the 4-3 walk-off win in the nightcap. UK suffered the 8-4 loss in the series opener on Friday, as three errors in the sixth erased a UK lead. UK rode a dominating eight-inning start from senior Jerad Grundy in the Saturday opener, as he struck out 10 and allowed only a pair of runs.

“Grundy was outstanding,” Henderson said. “I’m really, really happy for Jerad, happy for our club. That effort today was about as good as you see in college baseball.”

Mississippi State (21-6, 2-4 SEC) starter Evan Mitchell did not record an out in the first inning, allowing three runs to score on three walks and a hit batter. Ross Mitchell then walked a hitter on five pitches to force Luis Pollorena out of the bullpen. The senior lefty worked 4.1 strong innings, allowing only a single and an intentional walk, striking out three. Myles Gentry got MSU out of a jam with a pair of outs in the fifth, with Chad Girodo shining in relief despite the hard-luck loss. Girodo (2-1) worked three innings, allowing one hit and one run, walking one and striking out one. Holder came on in the jam in the ninth, allowing the decisive hit from Cousino.

UK will return to action on Tuesday, hosting Marshall at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

Kentucky opened the game with a quick three runs in the bottom half of the first inning. Mitchell began the game by hitting Cousino and followed with two walks to load the bases with no outs. Mitchell wasn’t able to find the strike zone and walked Kuhn to bring home Cousino. The Bulldogs were forced to go to the bullpen and bring Ross Mitchell in to face Riddle. Ross Mitchell faced one batter, walking Riddle to allow Zellers to come across. Pollerena took the mound the Bulldogs already down 2-0 and the bases loaded with no outs. Barrett flew out in foul territory down the leftfield line, allowing Reed to tag from third and score, giving Kentucky a 3-0 lead through the first.

In the top of the third, Henderson reached first on a fielder’s choice and eventually advanced to third on a throwing error following Adam Frazier’s single up the middle. With runners on first and third, Bradford grounded out to first base but Henderson scored and Frazier advanced to second. Kentucky chose to intentionally walk Renfroe, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Littrell forced a ground ball to shortstop but a throwing error kept the inning alive and the bases loaded with two outs. Littrell stalled and walked Detz, scoring Frazier and keeping the bases loaded. A line out to right center would end the inning but the Bulldogs had tightened the game to 3-2.

With one out, Renfroe drilled a home run over the deck in right center to tie the rubber match at 3-3 through five.

Tied entering the bottom of the ninth, Barrett led off Kentucky with a double into left center. The Bulldogs brought closer Holder in to attempt to send the game into extra innings. Holder intentionally walked pinch-hitter Boehm to allow a force out. Following a strikeout, Reida worked the count and drew a walk to load the bases for the top of the order. With the infield in to attempt to nab the winning run at the plate, Cousino delivered for the Wildcats, singling down the rightfield line to score Barrett and give Kentucky a 4-3 win.

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