OXFORD, Miss. -- Max Kuhn’s RBI single with the bases loaded in the eighth inning forced in the eventual game-winning run and No. 24 Kentucky got a dynamic start from Corey Littrell and a clutch-relief outing from closer Trevor Gott, to post a 5-4 comeback win at No. 16 Ole Miss, on Saturday afternoon in front of 9,032 at Swayze Field.
“A lot of things to like about the club today,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “Max Kuhn had two hits today. No errors for the second day in a row, that was good. Corey Littrell was outstanding. He got better after the home run. He really competed well. Really pleased with Trevor Gott’s poise after giving up the two hits in the ninth, he calmed down and made the pitch he needed to make. We had a few tough defensive plays during the course of the game that we made. I thought Micheal Thomas caught really well. I was really pleased with our body language and how we approached it today.”
Kentucky (26-17, 9-12 Southeastern Conference) fell behind after the first inning, 1-0 before rallying to even the game in the second and take a 2-1 lead after four innings. Austin Anderson then lifted the Rebels to the lead with a two-out, two-run homer in the fifth inning.
The Wildcats evened up the game on Greg Fettes’ solo homer in the sixth and took a 5-3 lead in the eighth with a pair of runs, with Kuhn’s RBI single driving in the eventual game-winning run. Gott took over in the ninth and worked around two hits and a run to nail down his school-record 10th save of 2013 and the 21st of his career.
“It is huge for us,” Littrell said. “We needed that confidence. We needed that win, to win the series on the road too. That was huge for us just as a team to get out mojo back.”
A native of Louisville, Ky., Littrell (5-3) worked eight strong innings, allowing seven hits and three runs, walking one and striking out six. The win was Littrell’s 20th career win, moving him into a tie for sixth place in program history, and his eighth quality start of the year and the 22nd of his career. He sits just four wins shy of equaling the program, held by Jay Ray (1982-85).
“He was a little amped up early,” Henderson said. “Then he calmed down before he gave up the two-run homer to Anderson. But Corey just made the decision to calm down. Once he did the secondary stuff showed up, as it does every time he pitches. When that takes place he is pretty tough to beat. He is like a lot of guys, if he is down and has secondary stuff then it works well.”
Gott, a native of Lexington, Ky., took over to start the ninth inning and allowing a pair of hits and a run to score, battling around the game-tying run at second base to end the game on a strikeout and lift the Wildcats to the series win.
“It is huge,” Littrell said about the confidence UK has in Gott. “He is the best closer in the country. Even when they got that hit we knew we were going to win. We knew he would figure out a way to get them out and that is exactly what he did.”
The series victory for UK in Oxford is its first since the 2007 season and just the third in program history, with UK also winning two of three at Ole Miss in 2001.
“Well, I didn’t know that,” Henderson said about the third series win in UK history in Oxford. “I was here for one in 2007. It is just a big weekend, this is a tough place to play, a good program, a lot of fans and all that. When you go on the road it doesn’t make any difference where it is in the conference it is tough to play. Any time you go on the road and win a series it is valuable for your kids, not only at that point in time but moving forward. I am really glad to come out of here with a win.”
The one-run win was UK’s second of the weekend and improved the Wildcats to 9-4 in one-run games in 2013.
Ole Miss (31-13, 11-9 SEC) starter Sam Smith worked 4.2 innings, allowing two hits and two runs, walking two and striking out two. Aaron Greenwood took over in the fifth inning, working two innings, allowing four hits and one run, striking out three. Lefty Matt Denny (1-1) got an out in the seventh, allowing two unearned runs, with Tanner Bailey also getting two outs in the seventh. Jeremy Massie got four outs in relief in the eighth and ninth.
UK will break for finals next week and return to action with No. 14 Arkansas in a three-game series, starting on Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
“We are really glad,” Henderson said about being home for eight games. “It doesn’t get any easier. We are going to face some real pitching coming up. But that is fine. That is what the league is and that is why kids come to school here. We are glad to get home and we have to get finals week taken care of and get into Arkansas.”
The Rebels jumped out to an early lead for the second straight game in the first inning, as Tanner Mathis led off with a single, bounced off the plate and over the mound. Anderson then singled up the middle to push Mathis to third with no outs. After a key strikeout for the first out, Stuart Turner lined a two-strike pitch into leftfield to score Mathis and give Ole Miss a 1-0 lead.
UK immediately answered in the top of the second inning as Zellers led off getting hit by a pitch, stealing second base. Fettes then drew a walk to bring up Kuhn, who worked the count and smacked a two-strike single into right-centerfield to score Zellers from second.
In the top of the fourth, UK mounted a rally to take a lead. Reed led off with his seventh double of the year into the left-centerfield gap, taking third on a well-place grounder from Riddle. Zellers then hung a sacrifice fly down the rightfield line to score Reed on a feet-first slide at the plate.
The Rebels regained the lead in the fifth inning, as Mathis singled with two outs, scoring on Anderson’s two-run homer of the rightfield fence.
“I knew I made one bad pitch. I left it up and he put a good swing on it. I know I wasn’t going to let that pitch beat me. Because I knew my team needed me, especially today.”
Fettes evened up the game for the Wildcats in the top of the seventh inning, belting a leadoff, solo homer over the fence in leftfield for his second homer of the year. It was the first homer allowed by Greenwood in 2013.
UK took the lead in the eighth inning as Reed led off with a single into the left-centerfield gap. Riddle then followed and laid down a sacrifice bunt, with the throw from the mound sailing high to allow Riddle to reach. Ole Miss turned to Bailey in relief to face Zellers, with Zellers bouncing a sacrifice bunt back to the mound. Bailey turned and tried to get Reed as the lead out at third base but his throw sailed high and down the leftfield line, allowing Reed to score and Riddle to take third. After an intentional walk of Fettes, Kuhn chopped a single over the head of the drawn-in Rebels third baseman to score Riddle for a 5-3 lead.
GAME NOTES: Kentucky is now 44-30 all-time against Ole Miss, including 26-10 in games played in Oxford … UK is now 9-4 in one-run games in 2013 and is 28-15 in one or two-run games over the last two seasons … UK improved to 4-1 in blue and gray uniform combinations … UK is now 7-9 on the road, 4-8 on the road in the SEC … UK is now 5-9 vs. top-25 teams ... UK is now 5-5 on Saturday’s … UK is now 19-10 against right-handed starting pitching … UK is now 7-10 when its opponent scores first.
• Junior J.T. Riddle made his team-0leading 109th consecutive start.
• Junior Corey Littrell made his 40th career start and his 11th of the year.
o Littrell now ranks tied for eighth with Jay Ray (1982-85) and Scott Downs (1995-97) for career starts.
o Littrell picked off his fifth runner of the year.
o Littrell worked his 22nd career quality start and the eighth of 2013.
o Littrell now has 20 career wins, moving into a tie with Andrew Albers (2005-08), Jeff Keener (1980-81) and Paul Kilgus (1981-84) and just four away from the record.
• Senior Zac Zellers was hit by his 10th pitch of the year in the second inning.
o Zellers stole his sixth base of the year.
o Zellers recorded his seventh sacrifice fly of the year.
• Sophomore A.J. Reed recorded his eighth double of the year.
• Sophomore Max Kuhn has now reached base safely in 40 of 43 games this year.
• Junior Matt Reida laid down his team-high eighth sacrifice bunt of the year.
o With his 23rd career sac bunt, Reida moved into a tie for sixth in UK career history, joining Michael Bertram (2003-06) and Jeff Michael (1990-93).
• Freshman Greg Fettes hit his second homer of the year, his first game-tying bomb of the year.
• Junior Trevor Gott saved his 10th game of the year.
o Gott now has a single-season record 10 saves in 2013, breaking his 2012 mark of nine.
o Gott now has a career record 21 saves in 25 chances.