Kentucky tops No. 2 South Carolina
Wildcats remain unbeaten, collect 19th consecutive victory
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Trailing by a run with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, junior catcher Luke Maile crushed a two-run, walk-off home run to centerfield to lift No. 16 Kentucky to a series-opening 4-3 win against No. 2 South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference opener.
Kentucky (19-0, 1-0 SEC) has now won a school-record 19 consecutive games to open up the season, equaling the 2007 and 2008 team’s 19-0 mark. UK’s 19-game winning streak is the longest for any team and the Wildcats sit as the lone team in the nation to remain undefeated.
The Wildcats entered the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by a run and the top of the order due. With South Carolina standout reliever Evan Beal (1-1) on the mound after striking out three UK hitters in the bottom of the eighth inning, Kentucky led off with the top of the order and sparkplug leadoff man Austin Cousino. Cousino immediately got hit by the first pitch of the frame from Beal and leftfielder Zac Zellers laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Cousino--the tying run--into scoring position for Maile. After a first-pitch strike, Beal missed on two consecutive pitches. His fourth pitch of the at bat was launched off Maile’s bat to the deepest part of the park, sailing over the fence and above the outstretched glove of USC centerfielder Evan Marzilli.
The homer was Maile’s fourth of the year and his staggering seventh game-winning RBI of the year. Maile owns two walk-off hits for the Wildcats this year, the last coming on Sunday vs. Canisius. Maile’s seven game-winning RBI through 19 games ties the team-leading season total from Thomas McCarthy’s seven game-winning RBI through the entire 55 game season in 2011.
Kentucky founds itself in a early hole, as the two-time defending NCAA Champion Gamecocks plated single runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings for a 3-0 lead. UK rallied with two runs in the bottom of the seventh to remain in striking distance, chasing All-American South Carolina starting pitcher Michael Roth, who entered the game with a 0.93 ERA in 29 innings. Roth ended up allowing two UK runs in 6.2 frames, with the southpaw entering the series having allowed only three runs the entire season.
Maile finished the game with his lone hit going as the two-run walk-off home run. He added a bases-loaded walk earlier in the game for his third RBI.
Zellers and freshman first baseman A.J. Reed collected two hits each, with Reed delivering an RBI. Zellers launched his sixth double of the year, with UK also getting hits from Thomas McCarthy and J.T. Riddle. Reed extended his hitting streak to a career-long and club-high 10 games with his knock.
UK starter Taylor Rogers went 5.2 innings, allowing eight hits and two runs, walking two and striking out four. He was relieved by Walter Wijas, who worked two perfect innings, not allowing a baserunner with two strikeouts. Freshman Sam Mahar came on to get the final out in the eighth inning, getting two outs, before Tim Peterson (2-0) came on to get two outs in the eighth inning.
South Carolina (15-2, 0-1 SEC) starter Michael Roth went with 6.2 innings, allowing five hits and two runs, walking two and striking out six. Koumas relieved him in the seventh, with Webb getting out of the seventh inning jam and Beal striking out three in the eighth inning, before allowing the two-run homer in the ninth
UK will send junior southpaw Jerad Grundy (2-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound to take on Carolina junior righty Matt Price (2-0, 3.10 ERA).
Connor Bright started the top of the third for South Carolina with a leadoff single up the box. A fielding error on Rogers during the sacrifice bunt attempt by Evan Marzilli moved Bright to second and placed Marzilli on first. Another sacrifice by Matthews moved up Bright to third and Marzilli to second with one away. A fielder’s choice to Reida scored Bright with Christian Walker out on the play at first. The South Carolina half came to a close with the Gamecocks up 1-0.
In the fourth inning, Erik Payne launched a solo-home run to left center off the scoreboard on a 2-2 pitch, which increased the Gamecock lead to 2-0 in the top half of the fourth.
South Carolina added a run in the top of the sixth inning. With LB Dantzler at third, Marzilli singled up the box to score Dantzler, which moved the Gamecock advantage to 3-0.
In the seventh inning, a leadoff line drive to the rightfield-line put Riddle on first with no one out. Another fielder’s choice put Matt Reida at first with Cousino up and two away. Cousino then walked to move Reida into scoring position for Zellers. The leftfielder advanced to first on a full-count hit by pitch, bringing up Maile, who walked on five pitches, plating Reida. Reed then hit a bloop off the end of the bat, bringing in Cousino to cut the Gamecock lead to 3-2. Lexington-native Flynn then came up with the bags full and lofted the ball over third but a well-positioned Dantzler ended the bottom half of the seventh inning with the grab as South Carolina led 3-2 heading into the eighth.