Kentucky broke ahead to a two-run lead in the first three innings and held off a late rally by top ranked South Carolina to defeat the Gamecocks 2-1 on Saturday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium to clinch a weekend SEC baseball series. The Gamecocks are 18-3 and 2-3 in the SEC with Kentucky 17-6 and 3-2 in league play. The series concludes on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will be streamed live on ESPN3 and can be heard on the Gamecock IMG Network including flagship station, 107.5 FM, “The Game.”
Micheal Thomas gave Kentucky a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning with a solo homer, his second of the series and fifth of the season. Thomas jumped on the first pitch he saw to left field to give the Wildcats the lead. A two-out RBI single by Max Kuhn in the third inning gave the Wildcats a two-run edge.
An umpire call in the fifth inning led to the ejection of South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook. Tanner English led off the fifth inning with a base hit. With no outs, Marcus Mooney knocked a grounder into the hole between short and third base. UK shortstop Matt Reida threw over to second on the fielder’s choice. English slid into second base but was ruled out by umpire Todd Henderson. Holbrook proceeded out to argue the call and was eventually ejected by Henderson.
“The call didn’t go our way,” said South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook. “I’m not allowed to comment on the call. I know that I will go out and argue if I think I’m right. It’s up to people analyzing replay to determine whether I was right or not. I was going out there because I thought he was safe. It’s an emotional game. I know that, to the shortstop, it was a three or four hopper moving to his right and the fastest player in the country (English) has a chance to beat it out.”
Carolina would get on the scoreboard in the eighth inning. Joey Pankake was hit by a pitch and Kyle Martin singled to give the Gamecocks a pair of runners with no outs. After a sacrifice by Connor Bright moved both runners into scoring position, Grayson Greiner lifted a sac fly into left-center scoring Pankake and cutting the Wildcat lead to a run.
The Gamecocks looked to tie it in the ninth as DC Arendas led off the frame with a double off the wall in right-center, just barely missing a home run. English would lay down a successful sac bunt to move Arendas to third with one out. UK would make a change to the pen and bring in right-hander Spencer Jack. Jack struck out Marcus Mooney for the second out of the frame. With two outs and Max Schrock at the plate, UK would go to the pen one more time for left-hander Logan Salow. Salow would induce Schrock into a groundout at second ending the game.
Kentucky starting pitcher Chandler Shepherd improved to 5-0 on the year earning the win. He allowed one run on six hits in 7.1 innings with four walks and six strikeouts. South Carolina left-hander Jack Wynkoop suffered the loss and is 4-1 on the year. He allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings with one walk and nine strikeouts.
“We have to win some games on offense sometimes,” said Holbrook. “Sometimes our pitching staff is our pacifier, our security blanket. It’s not good enough. We have to swing the bats some, we have to score, we have to get some big hits. We can’t try to win games 3-2 all the time or we are going to have our share of losses. That’s what occurred today.”
South Carolina had seven hits to Kentucky’s six on the afternoon. Arendas finished 2-for-4. Pankake extended his hitting streak to nine games. Micheal Thomas led UK with a 2-for-3 day at the plate.