COLUMBIA, S.C. – After No. 17 Kentucky got a two-run homer to open the scoring in the top of the sixth inning, No. 14 South Carolina plated four runs on five hits in the bottom half of the frame and posted a 5-2 series-opening win over the Wildcats, in front of 7,411 on Saturday at Carolina Stadium.
Kentucky’s (24-13, 7-9 Southeastern Conference) offense was led by a two-run blast from senior Zac Zellers in the top of the sixth, which gave the Wildcats a lead in a scoreless game. The Gamecocks then rallied with five hits and four runs in the bottom half of the inning and held on for a 5-2 series-opening win.
The series will resume later on Saturday with the second game of the series. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action.
With freshman Kyle Barrett on second, Zellers worked the count and delivered his second home run of the year on the eighth pitch of the at bat in the sixth. The senior also recorded his second double of the year with a groundball down the third-base line. Barrett notched two hits for the Wildcats from the leadoff spot, stealing his fourth base of the year and scoring one run. Freshman Dorian Hairston pinch hit with two outs in the top of the ninth and singled with a groundball through the right side of the infield, his first hit in SEC play and second hit of his career.
UK starter A.J. Reed (2-5) was handed his fifth loss of the year, tossing 5.1 innings, allowing nine hits and four runs, three earned. The sophomore struck out four and surrendered no walks.
Senior Walter Wijas took over in the fifth and worked an inning of relief, surrendering three hits and one earned run. Freshman Ryne Combs took over on the mound with one out in the bottom of the seventh and runners on second and third. The Lexington, Ky., native forced a sacrifice fly against his first batter but struck out the following batter to end the inning and limit the damage to one run, working 1.2 innings to save the bullpen for game two.
South Carolina (29-10, 9-7 SEC) starter Nolan Belcher went 7.2 innings, giving up two runs on six hits, while tossing 111 pitches.
The Gamecocks were led by home runs on back-to-back pitches from shortstop Joey Pankake and first-basemen LB Dantzler in the bottom of the sixth. Max Schrock recorded two hits for the Gamecocks, including a double following Dantzler’s home run in the sixth. Pankake, Dantzler, Schrock and Brison Celek each recorded one run and RBI for the Gamecocks.
Adam Westmoreland took over on the mound for the Gamecocks in the eighth with two outs and Zellers on second to face Reed. Reed took the count full but the southpaw won the battle with a strikeout to end Kentucky’s threat. Westmoreland went 1.1 innings, striking out two while allowing one hit en route to his third save of the year.
A two-run blast from Zellers brought home the first runs of the afternoon in the top half of the sixth. Barrett singled with one out on a grounder through the right side of the infield and moved over to second on a stolen base. On the eighth pitch of his at bat, Zellers belted a two-run homer into the leftfield stands.
South Carolina responded in the bottom half of the inning with four runs to take its first lead of the game. Pankake kicked off the scoring with a one-out, solo homer over the leftfield wall. Dantzler tied the game on the following pitch with a solo shot into the lawn beyond the rightfield wall.
Schrock continued the action for the Gamecocks with a double off the rightfield wall and a Celek liner up the middle scored Schrock, the go-ahead run. The third run ended the afternoon for Reed as Kentucky brought Wijas in with one out and a runner on first. Wijas forced a fly out to rightfield for the second out of the inning but a double by Bright would score Celek.
The Gamecocks would add another run in the seventh after opening the inning with two consecutive singles. Chase Vergason singled into centerfield and Pankake into leftfield, putting runners on second and third for Dantzler. A weak dribbler retired Dantzler but moved the baserunners to second and third. Combs took over on the mound with runners on second and third. Combs forced Schrock to fly out to Cousino in centerfield but Vergason was able to tag and score from third and increased the South Carolina lead to 5-2.