Kansas spoils UK's NCAA opener

LOUISIVLLE, KY. - Kentucky found itself in a familiar spot following Friday's NCAA Tournament opener against Kansas: digging out of a hole.

The Wildcats fell behind 3-0 and 6-3 after the first two innings and never could push to the lead in a 10-6 loss to the Jayhawks during a storm-plagued game that featured three delays totaling three hours and 29 miutes.

Kentucky has lost its last five NCAA Tournament openers dating back to 1993. Its only win in an opener came against Rutgers in 1988.

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That's the bad news.

The good news? It's a double-elimination format, and the Wildcats have also shown an ability to fight back to the regional championship game. Most recently, UK managed to bounce back with a pair of wins in the 2012 Gary Regional after suffering a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to Kent State in 21 innings.

Kentucky (35-24) will play the loser of Friday night's Louisville-Kent State matchup on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET in an elimination game. While it's traditionally rare for teams to battle back from an opening-game loss in the NCAA Tournament, eight teams have lost the first game of the regional and went on to the next round in the last five years.

"I don't tell them (that they're facing elimination)," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "They know that. What I did tell them was that last Friday our (UK softball team) lost the first game (to UCLA) and ESPN threw that 85 percent number up on the TV. You know, you lose the first one, and the winner has an 85 percent chance of moving on. And our gals won two the next day, so reeally the only thing we have right now is tomorrow's game.

"The bottom line is it's hard (to advance). It's not impossible. It'll probably happen this year with somebody... It might as well be us."

The Cats rolled the dice in the opener, skipping national player of the year A.J. Reed in favor of sophomore right-hander Kyle Cody on the mound. It backfied as Kansas posted three runs against Cody, who mishandled two bunts and threw a wild pitch in a first inning that was interrupted by a 63-minute storm delay.

"I did not see that coming," Henderson said of Cody, who pitched well in UK's SEC Tournament game last week against Florida. "... (But) I was very glad we dind't have to sit A.J. there (through the weather delays) and not get as long an outing as we would have anticipated out of him."

When play finally resumed, Kentucky responded on Ka'ai Tom's three-run homer over the fence in right field.

The shot of adrenaline dind't last long, though. Kansas put three more runs on the board in the second against UK reliever Andrew Nelson. All the damage occurred after two outs when Nelson walked a pair of batters, then surrendered ocnsecutive hits to Michael Suiter, Joven Afenir and Tucker Tharp.

Kentucky posted a run in the third and two in the fourth to tie the game at 6-6 before the final weather delay held the game up for another hour and 58 minutes.

The Cats looked like they had a chance to grab the lead in the sixth, but Storm Wilson got thrown out at home on an extremely short fly ball to left field, an inning-ending double play that seemed to throw momentum back in the Jayhawks' favor.

Kansas (35-24) posted two runs in the seventh and two in the eighth against the third UK pitcher of the day, Chandler Shepherd (5-5), to put the game away. A Tharp double and a Tommy Mirabelli triple highlighted the Jayhawks' final tallies.

Tharp went 3-for-5 with three RBI to lead the Jayhawks. Afenir also collected three hits. Mirabelli, who entered the NCAA Tourney with a .160 batting average, had two hits and reached base three times for KU.

Drew Morovick (10-4) was superb in relief for the Jayhawks, picking up the win by tossing 3.1 innings of one-hit relief after Jordan Piche gave up five runs on seven hits through the first four innings. Stephen Villines nailed down the final five outs for KU, although it was not a save situation.

"For us, that's about as good as we can play today and execute today," said Kansas head coach Ritch Price, who praised his team for staying focued through "one of the most unusual games I've ever been involved with."

Kentucky got two hits from Austin Cousino and two from Max Kuhn, but not much damage from Reed. He went 0-for-2 with two walks a day after being named Collegiate Baseball's national player of the year.

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