Alabama seemed to have grabbed momentum with a two-out, ninth-inning home run by Will Haynie, but half an inning later the Kentucky Wildcats answered with a walk-off, grand slam home run to take a 6-2 win over the Crimson Tide in Lexington Saturday.
It was Alabama’s second consecutive close loss to 19th-ranked Kentucky at Cliff Hagan Stadium, assuring the series win for the Wildcats. Bama fell to 18-13 this season and 5-6 in Southeastern Conference play.
Sunday’s series finale is scheduled for a 12 p.m. CT start on SECN+. The Crimson Tide will start junior right-hander Nick Eicholtz while the Wildcats will call on senior righty Kyle Cody in the third game of the series.
Kentucky loaded the bases in the ninth with no outs before the Tide brought in Jon Keller. The senior left-hander struck out the first batter before giving up a walkoff grand slam.
“We’ve had two well-pitched games to put ourselves in a position to win,” said Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard. “The last two games, particularly with our two starters, I thought both of them did a really good job. Pitching-wise and defensively, we did enough, just offensively we missed a couple of opportunities. Today, against a really good arm and a good defensive team, we didn’t create enough chances for ourselves.”
Alabama’s pitchers once again positioned the team for a win, led by another solid start from sophomore Jake Walters. The righty worked 5 1/3 innings of one-run baseball, giving up five hits and walking three while striking out five. Walters has now worked five or more innings in all but one start this season and has collected at least five strikeouts in seven of his eight starts.
Kentucky scored first when a one-out balk with two in scoring position brought across the game’s first run.
The Crimson Tide was able to even the score at 1-1 in the top of the third. Hunter Webb led off with a single and then forced a throwing error on a pickoff attempt to put the Tide left fielder in scoring position. One out later, a passed ball moved Webb to third and then a Cobie Vance grounder to the Kentucky shortstop resulted in an error, bringing in the tying run.
In the top of the sixth, Walters allowed two to reach before turning the ball over to Dylan Duarte. The freshman came in and gave up a single to load the bases, but bounced back with a strikeout and a popup to end the threat.
Duarte worked one batter in the seventh before the Tide called on Sam Finnerty. The right-hander would strand the inherited runner, retiring the three batters he faced in order. In the bottom of the eighth, Kentucky scored one run off Finnerty to take the lead heading into the ninth.
Down to its final out, Alabama catcher Will Haynie took the first pitch he saw deep to left for a solo home run to even things at 2-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth. The homer was Haynie’s fourth across the last five weekend series. The Wildcats reached three in the bottom of the ninth before hitting a grand slam to take the series.
“You’re frustrated because you’ve had two one-run games that we’re basically right there,” Gaspard added. “Really, what it comes down to tomorrow is doing everything you can to get out of here with a win. This will be our third out of four SEC weekend series on the road, so it’ll be good to get back at home after this weekend. We have to score some runs for our arms tomorrow to leave her with a victory.”