After taking down Alabama to start the SEC Tournament and #1 Seeded Florida yesterday, UK Baseball returned to the diamond tonight. Playing against former head coach John Cohen and the 5th seeded Bulldogs of Mississippi State, Kentucky won for the third time in three days in what would be the longest game in SEC Tournament history.
On the mound tonight for UK was freshman Zack Brown, who recently made his first SEC start against Georgia last Saturday in which he gave up 3 runs and 7 hits in only 3 innings pitched. While Brown would pitch 3 scoreless innings to begin the game, Mississippi State took advantage of his inexperience in the top of the 4th, scoring a run off of a wild-pitch with 2 outs. With Brown rattled and runners on the corners, Mahar came in to pitch, getting out of the inning after walking the first batter he faced. Heading into the bottom of the 4th, UK trailed Mississippi St 1-0.
On the mound for the Mississippi State was ace Ross Mitchell, who came into the game with an impressive 1.85 ERA. Mitchell pitched a pretty flawless game until the bottom of the 4th when Michael Thomas smacked a solo shot over the left-center field fence to tie up the game, the first home-run given up by Mitchell this year. Just as Miss St’s lead didn’t last long, neither did UK’s, with the Bulldogs manufacturing 2 runs with 2 outs in the top of the 5th, forcing Gary Henderson to bring in Zach Strecker for Mahar. Strecker managed to get out of the inning without surrendering any additional runs, but gave up one in the top of the 6th, increasing State’s lead to 4-1.
While the ‘Cats struggled offensively in the first 5 innings, the 6th was a different story as Kentucky plated 3 runs, tying the game at 4-4. The rally began with A.J. Reed being walked and would see Reed, Tom, and Thomas all touch home plate before the inning came to an end. After Mississippi State took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 7th, only scoring one run after loading up the bases with no outs, UK put together another rally similar to the one in the 6th, loading the bases starting with an AJ Reed walk with 1 out. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, Miss St got out of the inning without giving up a run thanks to a controversial double play in which Storm Wilson and the ball seemed to arrive at 1st base at the same time.
Kentucky wouldn’t be able to score in the 7th, but the BatCats would make some noise after a 1-2-3 inning from Zach Strecker in the top half of the 8th. While Mississippi State is known for its impressive bullpen, UK would be able to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with not outs to start the bottom of the 8th. After NCAA active save leader Jonathan Holder came in to pitch, Kyle Barrett grounded out, scoring Bernal and moving Reida to 3rd with one out. While UK seemed ready to take its first lead of the game, Holder showed why he’s one of the best in college baseball, striking out Cousino and getting Kuhn to fly-out, making the score 5-5 heading into the 9th. A throwing error and a Collins single allowed for the Bulldogs to take a 6-5 lead off of new pitcher Spencer Jack in the top of the 9th, but one the most entertaining SEC Tournament game so far wasn’t over there. Soon-to-be POY A.J. Reed lead off the inning with a bloop double, putting the tying run in scoring position with no outs. Carson would come in to pinch-run for Reed, advance to 3rd on a wild-pitch and then tie the game via a Ka’ai Tom sac fly. The inning came to a close with the score still knotted up 6-6, extending the game to extra innings.
No runs were scored for the first several extra innings, but the most exciting play of the game would take place in the 10th. With 1 out and a runner on third for Miss St, Bradford put a ball in deep center field, deep enough to score the runner on 3rd. Austin Cousino had other plans, though, firing in a laser to Michael Thomas, who blocked the plate perfectly and tagged out the potential go-ahead run; a close-call that lead to Miss St fans booing until the game ended. After a few scoreless innings, Kentucky would head to the bottom of the 12th looking to end what the commentators dubbed as the “pajama special.” Matt “Mr. May” Reida lead off the inning with a double, putting the winning run on 2nd with no outs. After 2 walks and a Kuhn strikeout, Zach Arnold beat out the potential 6-4-3 double play on a ball hit to the shortstop as Reida crossed home plate, keeping UK undefeated in SEC Tournament play.
The win means that UK will get a much needed day off tomorrow. The BatCats will be back in action on Saturday in the SEC Tournament Semi-Final against the winner of Florida/Mississippi State.