LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Sophomore Max Kuhn drew a bases-loaded, two-out walk in the bottom of the 10th inning to force in the walk-off run, leading No. 8 Kentucky to a 3-2 series-opening win over Georgia, on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (20-5, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) saw its 2-1 lead erased in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Bulldogs plated a game-tying run with two outs and two strikes off UK record-setting closer Trevor Gott.
After a scoreless bottom of the ninth, the Wildcats mounted the game-winning rally with one out in the bottom of the 10th. Shortstop Matt Reida drew a one-out walk to spark the charge, with Georgia then turning to closer and rightfielder Jared Walsh to face UK All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino. Cousino and then Zac Zellers drew clutch walks to load the bags for A.J. Reed – who took a hard-luck, no-decision as the starting pitcher. On a 1-2 count, Walsh’s breaking ball skidded away from catcher Brett DeLoach, who took over behind the plate in the ninth. Reida took off from third and was out sliding at the plate for the second out. Reed then took a ball and was hit by a full-count pitch to load the bases for Kuhn with two outs.
A native of Zionsville, Ind., Kuhn drew four consecutive balls to draw the game-winning, walk-off walk and force in Cousino with the decisive run. The walk was Kuhn’s team-high 23rd of 2013, with the infielder owning a 23-16 walk-strikeout ratio. Kuhn has the most walks for a UK player through the first 25 games of the season since All-America outfielder Sawyer Carroll drew 25 walks in his first 25 games of 2007.
“Going up, I was ready to swing the bat,” Kuhn said. “I was hoping to get a first-pitch strike or something to get the bat off my shoulders. I wanted to swing. Fortunately I just saw four balls.”
“You have to win games like that because you’re going to play them,” UK head coach Gary Henderson, who improved to 102-41 in his career at Cliff Hagan Stadium, said. “You’re going to play low-scoring games. That was certainly by no estimation a pretty game I wouldn’t think.”
Reed worked 8.1 dominating innings, allowing only six hits and one run, not issuing a walk and striking out four. He left with a 2-1 lead, the bases clear and one out in the top of the ninth inning, with Gott taking over in relief.
“One earned run over eight and a third, so not a lot to poke at in that outing,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “Really impressed. Once again, A.J. is at his absolute best when he needs to be. He’s got a guy at third base or guys at second and third and less than two (outs) and he shows up. I don’t think they keep those stats, but if they did, he’d be leading the country in that one.”
Gott, the UK single-season and career save record holder, got the first two outs and worked pinch hitter Jess Posey – brother of MLB MVP Buster Posey – to a 1-2 count before Jess Posey lined a single the opposite way to score the game-tying run and give Gott his first blown save of 2013 and his first in a span of 16 consecutive save chances. Gott worked 1.2 innings, allowing three hits and one run, not issuing a walk and striking out two.
“(Gott) left two balls up,” Henderson said. “He threw two 3-2 pitches and he left two of them up. Tonight they got through. But he’s the least of our concerns. Trevor Gott, he’s a good one.”
UK collected eight hits in the game, with Cousino and freshman rightfielder Kyle Barrett leading the club with two hits each. Cousino went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two walks, ripping a two-run double in the fifth inning to give UK a 2-1 lead. Barrett went 2-for-3, with UK also getting hits from Reed, J.T. Riddle, Paul McConkey and Micheal Thomas.
Georgia (9-18, 0-7 SEC) starter Sean McLaughlin worked eight strong innings, allowing eight hits and two runs, walking one and striking out seven. Lefty Jarrett Brown worked 1.1 innings, allowing just one walk and one strikeout. Walsh (1-3) took the loss, allowing the decisive run on three walks with one out recorded.
The series will resume on Saturday, with first pitch set for 2 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. 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, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. UK will send senior southpaw Jerad Grundy (5-1, 1.99 ERA) to mound to face Georgia junior southpaw Patrick Boling (1-3, 3.93 ERA).
Following four scoreless innings of action, Georgia tallied a run in the top of the fifth. DeLoach led off the top half of the inning with a single through the right side and advanced to second on a groundout to second-baseman Riddle. DeLoach tagged and advanced to third on a fly out to Zellers in rightfield. With two outs, D.J. Smith delivered for Georgia and knocked a single through the right side of the infield to bring in the first run of the night and give Georgia a 1-0 lead.
Kentucky responded in the bottom half of the inning, scoring two to take its first lead of the game. McConkey opened the inning with a base hit into rightfield and advanced to second on bunt for a base hit from Thomas. The two moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line from Reida. Cousino stepped up and knocked a double into right centerfield to bring home McConkey and Thomas and give UK a 2-1 lead.
With one out in the top of the ninth, UK called upon Gott. As the first batter to face Gott, DeLoach knocked a single up the middle to reach first, before stealing second to put himself in scoring position to tie the game. Gott battled and struck out Daniel Nichols to come within one out of closing the game. Pinch-hitter Posey delivered for the Bulldogs with two outs, hitting a line-drive single into leftfield, allowing DeLoach to come around from second and tie the game in the top of the ninth at 2-2.