LEXINGTON, Ky. (UT Release) – In a roller coaster of a game, Tennessee had a one-run lead turn into a three-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth before battling back to within a single tally and putting the tying run on third in the top of the ninth only to see No. 13 Kentucky squeak out a 5-4 win in the series opener on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
“I’m trying to teach this team that when you do certain things it allows you to win,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “We’re not doing that and that is what is so frustrating. I know it is hard on them like it is hard on me too, but they have to learn. You tip your hat to Kentucky because they came out on top, but we gave them everything and they took advantage of it.
“We have to continue to work to shore that up. We have to learn how to win and that is not an easy characteristic to learn. You have to find a way to bottle that up when you get it and never let it get away.
With Tennessee clinging to a 2-1 advantage, Kentucky moved in front for the first time all evening when it put up a four-spot in the home half of the eighth. A leadoff error by the Vols got the ball rolling for the Wildcats before an RBI double by Kyle Barrett tied the game. Zac Zellers then gave UK its first lead of the night with a two-run single and a double by Austin Cousino padded the lead a three-run cushion.
That final run proved to be a big one as the Orange and White rallied to within one in the top of the ninth. Will Maddox and A.J. Simcox started the rally with back-to-back singles before coming home to score when Kentucky left fielder Zac Zellers misplayed the ball on a single by Scott Price.
The error allowed Price to move all the way to third with just one out, but UK closer Trevor Gott got a pop-up to shallow left and a strikeout to leave him stranded 90 feet away and close out his ninth save of the year.
“No matter what anyone says about this team and no matter how this season ends up, and we still have a long way to go, no one can ever say this team quits. We could have easily folded up the tent after that eighth inning. We were deflated and we came back.”
Simcox led a 12-hit Tennessee attack with a 3-for-5 effort while Maddox and Vincent Jackson each had a pair of hits in the loss. Freshman right-hander Aaron Quillen gave the Vols four shutout innings on the mound, striking out one and allowing five hits.
After three scoreless frames to start the game, Tennessee was the first to crack the scoreboard, putting up two in the top of the fourth. Bily jumped on an 0-1 offering and ripped it down the left-field line for a leadoff double and quickly came around to score when Jackson stroked a single to right. A balk and a groundout would then move Jackson up to third before Houser pulled a single into left to give the Big Orange a 2-0 lead.
UT freshman southpaw Andy Cox worked out of a big jam in the bottom of the fifth as Kentucky put a runner on third with just one out after a leadoff walk, wild pitch and a productive groundout. The UT lefty would leave him stranded there however, as he got Zac Zellers to foul out to first and struck out A.J. Reed with a high fastball to end the inning with the Tennessee lead intact.
Reed returned the favor in the very next frame though. After a single by Jackson and double by Taylor Smart put two Vols in scoring position with nobody out, the Wildcat starter was able to get a flyout to shallow right and a strikeout before a drive to the warning track in left was tracked down for the third and final out.
Kentucky came surging back once again in its next trip to the plate, using three walks to load the bases with just one out. The Vols would hand the ball over to Eric Martin and he kept the damage to a minimum, allowing just one run to cross the plate on an RBI single by Kyle Barrett before a flyball to left ended the inning with the bags full of Wildcats.
Martin would then add a scoreless seventh inning to his final line to set up the dramatic finish to the contest.
Tennessee and Kentucky will be right back at it at 2 p.m. on Saturday as the Vols look to even the series. The matchup on the mound will pit UT right-hander Nick Williams (1-2, 5.59) against Wildcat southpaw Jerad Grundy (5-3, 3.46).