Alabama Bullpen Can't Hold Lead

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky used a two-out rally to score four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning en route to a 7-6 come-from-behind win over No. 19 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference series opener at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Friday night.

The Wildcats put five straight runners on base with some well-placed hits and an Alabama error to claim the series opener.

Alabama (20-10, 4-6 SEC) led 4-3 with two outs in the eighth inning before Keenan Wiley, who had three hits in the game, stroked a two-out single to right-center off UA starter Adam Morgan. A balk sent Wiley to second base and Taylor Black walked on a 3-2 pitch to put runners at first and second.

Junior right-hander Jason Townsend replaced Morgan on the mound and Kentucky countered with pinch-hitter Cory Farris, who blooped an RBI single down the left field line to score Wiley with the tying run. Lance Ray, the second straight pinch-hitter, hit an apparent inning-ending ground ball to shortstop Josh Rutledge, who bobbled the grounder and threw wild to first base. Ray was awarded an RBI single and Black scored the go-ahead run. Rutledge then threw the ball away at first base as Farris scored from first base to give UK a 6-4 lead.

Junior Brett Whitaker replaced Townsend and gave up a run-scoring single to Chad Wright that scored pinch-runner Navarro Hall to give the Wildcats a 7-4 lead.

Townsend did not retire a batter and allowed two runs and two hits. Whitaker faced two batters and allowed an RBI single and recorded one strikeout.

"We had a really good start from Adam Morgan," Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard said. "He put us in position to win the game. We caught a tough break on the bloop (single) to tie it, but ultimately the bullpen, we've got to find another guy or two to rise up other than (Nathan) Kilcrease. It seems like every time we go to another guy, trouble starts. That's two Fridays on the road that we had opportunities to win games and let slip away."

Wright's base hit proved critical as Alabama answered with two runs in the top of the ninth inning to cut the deficit to 7-6 and had the tying run at third base when the game ended.

In the ninth, senior right fielder Cal Tinsley greeted relief pitcher Nick Kennedy with a first-pitch single to right and moved to second base on junior catcher Brock Bennett's single to right-center. Sophomore left fielder Jon Kelton ripped a double to left to score both Tinsley and Bennett to pull Alabama to within 7-6.

"I thought offensively we did a pretty nice job tonight," Gaspard added. "I thought we really competed, especially in the last inning, and had a chance there. For the most part, we gave ourselves some opportunities to score some runs, but we some chances we didn't capitalize on. Overall, I thought the offense did enough to put us in position to win."

Kentucky (20-11, 3-7 SEC) then turned to closer Matt Little to hold the one-run lead. Little struck out Rutledge for the first out in the ninth and then got consecutive ground outs from sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas and senior first baseman Clay Jones to preserve the win with his fifth save.

Morgan (4-1) was the tough-luck loser as he allowed five runs and 11 hits in 7 2/3 innings. He added three strikeouts and walked two batters.

Kennedy (3-1) was the winning pitcher for UK, despite allowing two runs and three hits in the ninth inning.

The Crimson Tide snapped a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning on Bennett's second home run of the season and first career SEC home run to give Alabama a 4-3 lead.

Alabama staged a two-out rally in the second inning to take a 2-0 lead. Senior third baseman Jake Smith got things started with a two-out double to left-center and scored on junior DH Chris Smelley's single up the middle that gave Alabama a 1-0 lead. Tinsley drew a walk and Bennett followed with an RBI single to left-center to score Smelley and give the Tide a 2-0 lead. The Crimson Tide leave runners and second and third when Kelton struck out to end the inning.

"We had a 2-0 lead and second and third, but that's kind of been the story the last three weeks with missed opportunities," Gaspard said. "Tonight, I thought we had better offensive rhythm than what we've had. We had some guys have some big nights. Overall, I wasn't disappointed with our offensive effort. I thought we did some pretty good things offensively. We did miss a couple of chances, but I thought we took advantage of couple of chances that we have not taken advantage of too."

Kentucky got one run back in the bottom on Andy Burns's solo home run to cut the lead to 2-1. It the first of two home runs in the game by Burns, who leads UK with nine round-trippers this season.

The Crimson Tide added to its lead when Jones hit his sixth home run of the season with two outs in the third inning to make it 3-1.

Alabama chased UK starter Logan Darnell with a pair of two-out base runners in the fifth inning, but could not add to its lead as Braden Kaptyen got Jones on a called third strike to end the threat.

Kentucky scored a run on three hits in the bottom of the fifth inning to close the gap to 3-2, but missed out on two chances to score and possibly tie the game. Marcus Nidiffer led off the inning with an infield hit and moved to second base on Nieko Johnson's sacrifice bunt. Wright was hit by pitch to put runners and first and second with one out.

Bisson then slapped a single into right field that would have loaded the bases but the ball glanced off Wright, who running from first to second and he was called out. Nidiffer was sent back to second base on the dead ball. Gunner Glad followed with a double to left field to score Nidiffer, but Bisson was gunned down at the plate on two good relay throws by Kelton and Rutledge to leave the Tide in front 3-2.

The Wildcats tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth when Burns hit his second home run of the game. It was his team-leading ninth home run of the season.

Alabama and Kentucky will play game two of this three-game SEC series on Saturday, April 10, at 5:30 p.m. (CDT). Junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson (4-0, 2.52 ERA) will start on the mound for Alabama.


*Alabama (20-10, 4-6 SEC) dropped its fourth straight SEC road game after its 7-6 loss at Kentucky on Friday night in Lexington.

*Sophomore left fielder Jon Kelton went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI in Friday's loss at Kentucky. The three hits and two doubles were both career highs for the LaGrange, Ga., native.

*Senior first baseman Clay Jones went 1-for-5, including his sixth home run of the season with two outs in the third inning. It was his first home run since March 14 against Stony Brook. The Centreville native has hit safely in 14 of his last 16 games.

*Junior DH Chris Smelley made his second SEC start of the season and went 2-for-3 with one RBI and one run scored. The two hits were a season-high, while the one RBI matched a season-high for the Tuscaloosa native.

*Senior right fielder Cal Tinsley went 1-for-3 and scored one run on Friday night. In his last two games, Tinsley is 4-for-8 with four RBI.

*Junior catcher Brock Bennett went 3-for-4 with one home run, two RBI and two runs scored. He had an RBI single in the second inning and added solo home run in the seventh to give the Tide a 4-3 lead. It was his second home run of the season and first career SEC home run.

*The Alabama bullpen suffered its sixth blown save of the season on Friday as Kentucky scored four runs in the eighth inning for a 7-6 win over Alabama.

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