In an epic game that took four hours and 36 minutes to play, the Wildcats battled back from deficits of 1-0, 4-1, 5-4 and 6-5 to stay alive in the winner's bracket at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium.
Senior shortstop Matt Reida, who led UK with a 4-for-6 night at the plate, got the winning rally started with a leadoff double down the left field line. A wild pitch moved him to third base and forced Mississippi State coach John Cohen to take unconventional measures to escape the jam, walking the next two batters intentionally to load the bases and create force outs in all directions.
The former UK coach's strategy almost worked. MSU pitcher Preston Brown struck out Max Kuhn for the first out and induced a ground ball to short from Arnold, but with the Bulldogs drawn in they were unable to make a play at any base as UK's Austin Cousino crossed home with the winning run and touched off a wild celebration.
"The game was an absolute war," Reida said. "Mississippi State played an unbelievable game, so did we. We just kept coming at each other. It could've gone either way. There was such small margin of error. It came down to a couple close calls. It was an unbelievable feeling."
Kentucky (35-22) has won three games in an SEC Tournament for the first time since 1996. The Cats advance to play Saturday in the semifinals against the winner of Friday's Florida-Mississippi State elimination game. LSU awaits the winner of Friday's Ole Miss-Arkansas game in the other semifinal bracket.
The UK-MSU clash featured just about everything one could ever find in a classic baseball game: a combined 32 hits, 11 walks, 24 runners stranded on base, great defensive plays, a few blunders and a couple of controversial calls that added to the drama.
The most noteworthy came in the 10th inning when the Bulldogs got a runner to third with one out. MSU's Matthew Britton hit what appeared to be a go-ahead sacrifice fly to center field, but UK's Cousino -- who won last year's Rawling's Gold Glove award for his defensive work -- came up with a perfect, no-hop throw to catcher Micheal Thomas, who blocked pinch runner Derrick Armstrong's foot from touching the plate as the tag was applied.
In the top of the 12th, State threatened again with a runner at third and one out, but Reida fielded a ball at short and fired home to Thomas for another close out at the plate.
Those defensive gems helped Kentucky overcome a four-error night that threatened to drop the Cats to the elimination bracket on several occasions.Spencer Jack (4-1) picked up the win by holding the Bulldogs to only one unearned run on four hits over the final four innings. UK was able to win without using any of its top arms. Starter Zack Brown allowed only one run in 3.2 innings of work, and Zach Strecker bridged the gap to Jack with a solid 3.1 innings of work, allowing just two runs on four hits.
Mississippi State (37-21) started its ace, junior left-hander Ross Mitchell. He entered the game with an 8-4 record and a 1.85 ERA, but the Cats were able to chase him after surrendering four runs on eight hits and two walks through 5.1 innings.
Kentucky catcher Micheal Thomas, who went 3-for-5 and scored two runs, hit the first home run this season against Mitchell, a solo blast in the fourth inning that tied the game at 1-1.
The Cats collected 16 hits on the night. In addition to Reida and Thomas, they also got two hits apiece from Ka'ai Tom, Storm Wilson and Thomas Bernal. Each also drove in a run.
A.J. Reed went 1-for-3 with two walks before giving way to a pinch runner after a leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth. Marcus Carson wound up scoring on a sacrifice fly by Tom to send the game to extra innings, and UK found a way to win while playing the final three innings without the leading contender for national player of the year.
The Bulldogs got four hits from freshman catcher Gavin Collins as well as two-hit games from Brett Pirtle, Seth Heck, Cody Brown, Wes Rea and Britton.
Brown (4-3) took the loss for MSU, allowing one run on two hits and two walks in the final inning.