MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Lucas Witt smacked a bases-clearing double in the top of the ninth inning to break open a tie game, leading No. 8 Kentucky to an 8-2 win at Coastal Carolina, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon during the final day of the Caravelle Resort Invitational at Pelicans Park.
A native of Lexington, Ky., Witt starred for the Wildcats in a close contest with the Chanticleers, driving in the game-winning runs in the ninth inning and making a pair of jaw-dropping gems in leftfield, including a fully-extended grab of a line drive going to his left and a tumble-over-the-fence catch in foul ground down the line.
“Lucas was really good, really good,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “(I am) Happy for Lucas, a great day for Lucas Witt. Big-time catch in foul territory there late, the diving catch in left-center and then coming up with the bases-clearing double in the top of the ninth. Good day for Lucas.”
“They are out there battling for us on the mound,” Witt said about trying to make defensive plays for his pitching staff. “We want to make sure that they know that no matter where the ball is hit, whether it be on the ground or in the air, that we are going to come down with it. I just try to go out there and make as many plays as I can. They are doing the same thing for us on the mound.”
UK and Coastal Carolina were locked in a pitching duel heading into the ninth inning, after the two teams traded single runs in the third and fifth innings. The Wildcats mounted the game-winning rally in the ninth, breaking through on soft-tossing, submarine righty Ryan Connolly, who had worked 3.2 shutout innings with only one baserunner surrendered in relief.
Matt Reida started the rally with a single through the right side and Micheal Thomas got plunked by a pitch when trying to square to bunt. That ended Connolly’s outing, with CCU calling on lefty Austin Kerr to face UK left-handed hitting centerfielder Austin Cousino. Cousino ripped a single into the hole on the left side to load the bases for Witt, with the Chants countering with their right-handed closer, Seth Lamando. Witt, a Lexington Christian Academy product, drilled a two-strike double down the leftfield line to empty the bases, with UK adding a pair of extra runs on a Paul McConkey single for the final margin.
“I just wanted to do something to help the team win,” Witt said about his at-bat in the ninth. “I hadn’t been great at the plate this weekend. I was trying to stay confident and stay true to my plan. Luckily I got a pitch; I recognized the curveball and drove it. It felt good because I had been struggling a little bit but I just tried to stay confident and continue to believe in myself.”
Eight of nine UK position starters collected hits in the game, with Witt pacing the club with his three RBI on a 1-for-5 game. J.T. Riddle added UK’s only multiple-hit game to extend his hitting streak to nine games. Riddle and Cousino each scored a team-best two runs. Reida, Thomas, McConkey, A.J. Reed and Thomas Bernal all added hits for the Wildcats.
“Offensively we struggled at the beginning of the game but we tried to stay the course, continued to believe in ourselves and had confidence,” Witt said. “We are tough. We always believe we are going to win, no matter what inning. We just continue to play together, play as one and we think good things are going to happen.”
Kentucky (5-1) starter Corey Littrell worked his first quality start of the year, tossing 6.1 innings, allowing four hits and two runs, walking five and striking out four.
“I liked the fact that Corey Littrell kept fighting even though he wasn’t very efficient,” Henderson said. “He kind of battled against himself early on and when it got tight he kept his poise, made the pitches when he needed to. Some really impressive pitching to get out of the jams by Corey. It was a tough game. He found his secondary stuff after the fourth inning. The sixth inning was his best inning. Really happy that Corey improved on last weekend and he is going to keep getting better.”
Senior Walter Wijas took over in relief of Littrell the seventh, getting two outs to get out of a jam, working one shutout inning and striking out one. Junior Trevor Gott (2-0) picked up the win with 1.2 stellar innings, allowing a single and striking out two. Gott came on in the eighth inning with two runners on and one out and after loading the bases with a seeing-eye single with one out to create a pressure-laden situation, got a strikeout and a pop-out to get out of the jam before closing the door in the ninth.
Coastal Carolina (3-2) starter Ben Smith worked 4.1 innings, allowing five hits and two runs – one earned – walking two and striking out three. Connolly (0-1) then came on with a drastic change of pace, with his soft-tossing strategy producing soft contact. Connolly, a preseason All-America selection who had a 2.10 ERA in 2012, worked 3.2 innings, allowing one hit and two runs, striking out three. Kerr and Lamando worked the ninth, with Kerr allowing Cousino to score and Lamando giving up three runs on three hits with a pair of strikeouts.
“One of the things that helped was getting into their pen,” Henderson said about the ninth-inning rally. “The kid throwing from down under was tough. He was good. He was competitive. Being able to see a different pitcher helped us. The quality of our at-bats was outstanding. There were a lot of really good at-bats in the ninth inning.”
After spending a miniscule amount of time in Lexington since leaving for South Carolina last week, the Wildcats have been on the road for 11 of the last 12 days. UK returns to action on Tuesday with its 2013 home opener, hosting Murray State at 4 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Wildcats got on the board in the top of the third inning, getting three hits and a walk to plate the first run of the game. Thomas led off with a two-strike single to right-centerfield, moving to second on Cousino’s eight-pitch walk. After a popped-up bunt attempt, Reed singled through the left side, with Thomas thrown out at the plate. Kuhn then smacked a single into leftfield to score Cousino and give UK a 1-0 lead.
Coastal immediately tied the game with a two-out solo homer in the bottom of the third inning, as Ted Blackman pounded a Littrell offering into the leftfield stands.
In the fifth inning, UK took a 2-1 lead as Witt led off with a grounder up the middle, his speed forcing an error by the CCU shortstop. After Witt stole second base, Reed flied out to deep left field – just missing his second homer – with Witt motoring to third base with one out. With Kuhn at the dish, Witt hustled home on a wild pitch that just got away from the plate, beating the throw with a head-first slide.
The Chants tied the game in the fifth inning, as Blackman drew a one-out walk. Littrell then picked off Blackman but was called for a balk, promoting an extended argument from Reida, Littrell and UK head coach Gary Henderson. Blackman then took third on a wild pitch and after Littrell struck out Buccilli for the second out, Colin Hering singled through the right side to score Blackman.
UK’s game-winning rally in the ninth started with a single from Reida, and then Thomas was hit by a pitch. After Cousino loaded the bases, Witt doubled down the line to clear the bags. Reed then reached with a hard-hit ball to the right side that went as an error before Riddle scored Wit with an RBI single. McConkey drove in Riddle and pinch runner Kyle Barrett with a single through the right side for the final margin.