By Tim Letcher
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The 12th-ranked Kentucky baseball team led for the majority of Tuesday’s game against Louisville, only to see the third-ranked Cardinals rally late for a 7-6 win at Jim Patterson Stadium in Louisville.
It was the second win for Louisville against Kentucky in the last six days. Last Wednesday, the Cardinals topped the Cats 9-6 at Cliff Hagan Stadium in Lexington.
Kentucky got on the board first, in the first inning, when leadoff hitter Evan White walked and was sacrificed to second base by Storm Wilson. After Gunnar McNeill hit a fly ball to center that wasn’t deep enough to advance White, it was Zach Reks coming through with a double to score White and make it 1-0 Kentucky.
Louisville appeared ready to cut into Kentucky’s lead in the second inning, but Wildcats’ started Zach Logue got out of a bases-loaded jam, getting Drew Ellis to pop up and Logan Taylor to strike out.
The Wildcats struck again in the third inning, with a number of the same players involved in the scoring. With one out, White reached on an error and advanced to third on a double by Wilson. Given a second chance to drive in a run, McNeill hit a ground ball to shortstop, and it was deep enough to score White and give Kentucky a 2-0 lead.
Logue kept the Cardinals at bay until the fifth inning, when Devin Mann singled to right to score Taylor and cut Kentucky’s lead to 2-1. But Logue induced a double play ground ball to get out of the inning. That play also ended Logue’s night, as the lefty pitched five innings, giving up one earned run and six hits while walking one and striking out two.
Kentucky (23-13) was able to extend its lead in the seventh inning. JaVon Shelby walked to begin the frame, followed by a single up the middle by Luke Becker. Marcus Carson then bunted his way on and the bases were loaded for Riley Mahan. The Wildcats’ shortstop did his job, hitting a deep fly ball to center field to score Shelby and make it 3-1.
After Troy Squires popped out on the infield, White came through with a two-out single to score Becker and give Kentucky a 4-1 advantage. Wilson followed with a single of his own, scoring Carson and making it 5-1 Cats.
But third-ranked Louisville (30-7) would not go away quietly. The Cardinals mounted a rally in the seventh inning, and came within an eyelash of tying the game. Louisville scored three runs in the frame off of Kentucky relievers Zach Pop and Justin Lewis, highlighted by a two-run home run by Corey Ray. But with Kentucky clinging to a 5-4 lead and two outs in the seventh, Brendan McKay hit what appeared to be a game-tying home run, only to see Carson reach above the outfield fence and make the catch to end the inning and preserve the lead.
The Wildcats got one of those runs back in the top of the eighth when Carson knocked in Reks with a sacrifice fly, giving the Cats a 6-4 advantage.
Louisville had the answer in the bottom of the eighth, when Danny Rosenbaum doubled in Devin Hairston to cut Kentucky’s lead to 6-5. With Rosenbaum on second and two outs in the eighth stanza, Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson called on freshman closer Sean Hjelle, who promptly uncorked two wild pitches to bring Rosenbaum home to tie the game at 6-6.
In the ninth, Kentucky was unable to score. And after Logan Salow walked Colin Lyman, McKay singled, setting up Hairston, who a single up the middle to score Lyman with the game-winner.
Kentucky returns to action on Thursday, as the Wildcats begin a three-game SEC series against Arkansas at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Thursday’s game begins at 7 p.m., with Friday’s game starting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday’s series finale is set for a 1 p.m. first pitch.