Kentucky scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, then held off Tennessee's furious counter in the ninth for a 5-4 win over the Volunteers on Friday night in the first of a three-game weekend series at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Trailing 2-1 in the eighth, the No. 13 Wildcats finally broke through against the UT pitching staff, which had stranded 11 UK baserunners in the first seven innings.
Kentucky (24-9, 7-6 SEC) took advantage of a two-base error that allowed Micheal Thomas to reach second and start the eighth-inning rally. Matt Reida followed with a bloop single down the right field line with Thomas stopping at third with no outs.
Kyle Barrett, who singled home UK's only run in the game prior to the rally, then doubled off the right field wall with Thomas scoring and Reida moving to third.
With the score even at 2, Zac Zellers singled against a drawn-in Tennessee infield to put the Cats in the lead. Two runs scored to give UK a 4-1 advantage. Austin Cousino followed with a double to add an important insurance run.
The ninth inning proved to be dramatic with UK closer Trevor Gott retiring the leadoff hitter, but surrendering back-to-back singles to Will Maddox and A.J. Simcox. Scott Price then loaded the bases with a single to left, but the ball got away from Zellers and allowed two runs to cross home.
A nice running catch by UK shortstop Reida down the left field line held the Vols in place before Gott slammed the door on the rally with a strikeout of Taylor Smart.
The Wildcats improved to 8-1 in one-run games this season and to 6-0 in games decided in their final at-bat.
Barrett led the Wildcats with his career-high 3-for-5 game and drove in two runs. UK also got multiple-hit games from Zellers and A.J. Reed, with Cousino, Reida and J.T. Riddle each adding one hit.
Reed got the start on the mound for UK, working his fifth quality start of the year and the seventh of his career. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder tossed 6.2 innings, allowing eight hits and two runs, walking two and striking out six. Chandler Shepherd (2-0) got the win with 1.1 shutout innings of efficient relief, allowing a lone single and striking out one.
Gott picked up his ninth save of the year, tying his own school record for saves in a season. In his career, the Lexington, Ky., native has a UK career record 20 saves in 23 chances, and has not allowed an earned run in his 21.2 innings in those saves, striking out 33.
Tennessee (14-18, 3-10 SEC) starter Aaron Quillen worked a pre-determined four innings, scattering five UK hits and no runs, walking one and striking out one. Dalton Saberhagen (0-2) took the loss, allowing two runs in a third of an inning.
The series will resume on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK will send senior southpaw Jerad Grundy (5-3, 3.46 ERA) to the mound to face off with UT junior righty Nick Williams (1-2, 5.59 ERA).
Cats rally past Vols for series-opening win
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