(Photo by Regina Rickert)
One swing of the bat was all it took for the 18-inning six-hour marathon ball game to end. Kentucky visited Bowling Green Tuesday to face the Hilltoppers, but wouldn’t finish the game until Wednesday morning after a double-dose of baseball.
It was a pitcher’s duel the entire way, with a 1-1 ballgame after 9 full innings. Kentucky was looking to end it much earlier than it did, after capitalizing on a Western Kentucky error in the 13th inning to put a runner on 3rd base with two outs. That runner would score to give UK a 2-1 lead with WKU down to its final three outs. In a spell of dÃ©jÃ vu, Western answered by capitalizing on a two-out Kentucky error to tie the game at two apiece… Onward march.
In the 14th, Western Kentucky got its first two men aboard; sending head coach Gary Henderson to already thinned-out bullpen. He went with freshman Zach Strecker to pitch in the biggest game of his young career. Strecker allowed a walk to the first batter he faced, loading the bases with nobody out. Then he turned it on. Strecker fanned the next two batters, and got a ground out to work around the jam, not allowing the walk-off run to score from just 90 feet away.
Kentucky’s Matt Reida led off the 17th inning with a triple off the wall, putting the go-ahead run just a sac-fly or base knock away with two outs to play with. Kentucky’s Jeff Boehm and Austin Cousino both struck out in the ensuing at-bats, and Max Kuhn grounded out; no damage done with the Cats best chance to win it yet.
Finally, in the 18th, on the first batter of the frame, the Toppers Trevor Lowe launched a fly ball to left field that just snuck inside the fair pole, winning the game for Western in dramatic walk-off fashion. It ended the longest game played in college baseball this season, and sent Kentucky to its seventh-straight loss.
Kentucky baseball falls to 24-16 on the season, and is now losers of 10 of its last 12 games. The Cats have also fallen out of the top-25 in the polls. The losing streak is very troublesome, especially when you consider the road ahead for Kentucky gets no easier.
The Cats will travel to No. 18 Ole Miss this weekend, and follow it up with a home series against No. 14 Arkansas, No. 3 Vanderbilt, and a one-game set with No. 17 Indiana. With 14 games left in the regular season, ten of them are against ranked teams. The Cats desperately need to break this losing skid to get momentum heading to the post-season. Hosting the regionals was once a sure-bet, but now it’s not looking so good. That’s a major blow to the aspirations of Omaha.