KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- J.T. Riddle broke open the scoreless game with a run-scoring double in the sixth inning and starter Corey Littrell hurled six shutout innings to lead No. 2 Kentucky to a series-clinching 6-0 win over Tennessee in a seven-inning contest, on Sunday afternoon at in front of 2,154 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Kentucky (24-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) founds itself in a hole entering Sunday, as UK suffered its first loss of the year on Friday night, ending a school-record 22-game winning streak to open the campaign. The Wildcats responded through the first five innings on Saturday, taking a 5-0 lead before a weather system forced a postponement of the game until Sunday, with the finale set as a seven-inning game due to SEC travel policies.
UK came out in the first game of the modified twinbill and posted a 6-2 win, using a dominating relief outing from senior southpaw Alex Phillips, who worked a career-high 4.1 shutout innings.
The Wildcats improved to a 5-1 to open conference play through the first two series, the second-best start to an SEC season in program history. UK opened up 6-0 in 1992 with sweeps of Auburn and Alabama, stretching it to 7-0 with a series-opening win vs. Arkansas.
With the rubber match locked in a scoreless tie entering the bottom of the sixth inning, UK mounted its rally to vault into position for the series win. After a Thomas McCarthy steal with one out put him in scoring position, Riddle pounded a double off the opposite-field wall to score McCarthy and put the Wildcats on the board. UK added insurance runs in the top of the seventh, plating five runs for the final margin, with UK reliever Trevor Gott needing 10 pitches to sit down the Vols in order in the bottom half of the inning for the series win.
Kentucky got the big double from Riddle and a two-hit game from senior catcher Michael Williams, a native of Knoxville. Freshman Austin Cousino launched a no-doubt homer to leadoff the top of the final inning, his second of the year, providing UK the cushion in needed in the bottom half of the frame. UK also got hits from Thomas Bernal and A.J. Reed, with Reed extending his hitting streak to 16 games, the longest hitting streak for a UK player since consensus first-team All-America outfielder Sawyer Carroll ended his career on a 16-game run in 2008.
A native of Louisville, Ky., and a product of Trinity High School, Littrell (3-0) worked six shutout innings, allowing only four hits and one walk, striking out five.
Tennessee (13-10, 2-4 SEC) starter Nick Williams worked 4.1 innings in his second career start. Williams allowed only one hit – a laser single up the middle to his older brother Michael – walking three and striking out three. He was relieved in the fifth by Drew Steckenrider, who got out of the jam with an out in the fifth, working 1.2 innings, allowing one hit and one run, walking two and striking out three. Nick Blount took over in the seventh, allowing three hits and three runs with two outs recorded. UT also used Dalton Saberhagen and Carter Watson in the seventh.
UK will return to action on Tuesday, hosting Western Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action.
The Wildcats got on the board in the top of the sixth inning, taking a 1-0 lead. After a leadoff walk from Reed, McCarthy replaced him at first on a fielder’s choice and then stole second base for his third steal of the year. Riddle then drilled a double off the base of the wall in left-centerfield, scoring McCarthy from second and giving UK a narrow advantage.
To lead off the seventh inning, Cousino worked the count full before pounding a no-doubt bomb over the rightfield fence, sailing into traffic on the access road behind the wall. After a pop up for the first out, Maile fouled a ball off his leg on a 1-0 pitch, with Bernal taking off in the at bat as a pinch hitter. Bernal delivered a single down the third base line, bringing up Reed. Reed pounded a laser off the wall in rightfield, a 320-foot single, as Bernal motored to third base. Bernal then scored during McCarthy’s at bat on a wild pitch from Blount. After McCarthy grounded out to push Reed to third, Riddle hit a chopper to at second that went as an error, allowing Reed to score. Lucas Witt then grounded to third base but it was misplayed, allowing Riddle to move to third and Witt to third on the error. After another pitching change, Williams singled up the middle to score Riddle and Witt for a 6-0 UK lead.
GAME NOTES: UK senior Michael Williams singled off his younger brother, Nick, with one out in the third inning, his first career hit in two at bats vs. Nick, who struck him out looking in 2011 … Zac Zellers was hit by his SEC-leading 13th pitch of the year … Lucas Witt was hit by his second pitch of the year … J.T. Riddle doubled for the fifth time in 2012 … Austin Cousino hit his second homer of the year, a no-doubt blast on a 3-2 count to leadoff the seventh inning … Thomas Bernal made his first career SEC appearance as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning … A.J. Reed extended his hitting streak to a team-leading and career-long 16 games, the longest hitting streak for a UK player since Sawyer Carroll ended his consensus first-team All-America career on a 16-game hitting streak … UK improved to 5-1 to open conference play, the second best start to an SEC season in program history, as the 1992 team opened up 7-0.