COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The Kentucky baseball team took a seven-run lead into the ninth inning here Sunday, but squandered its chances to earn coach Keith Madison his 700th victory as Pepperdine put eight across the plate to defeat the Wildcats 18-17 in the Aggie Baseball Classic.
In a wild game that featured 36 hits, the 17-run output was the most by the Wildcats in a losing cause since a 20-19 loss at Morehead State in 1979, Madison's first season at UK.
"It's a shame that our pitching staff, which is supposed to be our strong suit, couldn't shut the door," Madison said. "These kinds of losses are really hard to take. We've got a long season ahead of us and we just have to put this one behind us and move on."
Kentucky dropped to 3-4 on the season.
Junior right-hander Greg Ramirez floated through the first two innings for the Waves (7-8), but had his perfect day ruined when redshirt freshman second baseman Jesse Barber, who earned his first start as a Wildcat, ripped a two-out double down the right field line. Sophomore shortstop Spencer Graeter answered Barber's double with a two-bagger of his own to bring home UK's first run. Along with Barber, freshmen Emory Davies (designated hitter) and Jesse Barber (second baseman) earned first career starts.
"I thought offensively our guys did a great job," Madison said. "We had three guys in our lineup that have never started a collegiate game before and all three had quality at bats and competed well."
After a Caleb Stewart walk, senior Robert Newton sent a high fastball on a crash course to the center field wall, scoring Graeter and Stewart on UK's first triple of the season. Keeping the Cats' rally alive, senior Spencer Preston hit a short pop fly to right that Pepperdine right fielder Ed Montague dropped, allowing Newton to come home on the PU error. Senior right fielder Caleb Brock followed up with his third double in two days, scoring Preston and giving UK a commanding 5-0 lead.
Pepperdine crossed the plate in its half of the third off a triple by second baseman Duke Sardinha and a an RBI single by first baseman Ty Harper. However, the Cats brought a run home in the fourth when Davies ripped a RBI single scoring Russ Rutherford, who doubled earlier in the inning.
Junior Rob Corrado could not hold the Cats' lead in the fifth inning as the starting right-hander surrendered six runs on five hits and UK committed two errors, giving the Waves a 7-6 lead. Madison elected to go with Mark Galvin to get the Cats out of their jam, and the sophomore delivered by getting Cory Brightwell to ground out to third to end the inning.
Barber made the most of his opportunity, displaying a solid defensive performance to complement his aggressiveness and composure at the plate. The Carmel, Ind. native advanced to first on a bases-loaded walk in the sixth to force home the go-ahead run. UK duplicated Pepperdine's fifth in its half of the sixth, batting around the order and scoring six runs with Newton and Preston recording RBI singles.
The Waves splashed home a run on Galvin in the seventh after the Barber-Graeter middle infield tandem turned their second double play of the afternoon. Galvin quelled PU's hopes of closing the gap on UK's six-run lead by getting Brightwell to fly out to right.
In the UK eighth, Russ Rutherford blasted his second double of the game to left-center, scoring Mike Ferris who reached on a single up the middle.
Freshman lefty Adam Kunkel made his first appearance on the mound in a UK uniform, taking the reigns from Galvin in the eighth. Kunkel allowed a lead-off single to Sardinha, followed up by first baseman Ty Harper's two-run blast over left field fence. For Pepperdine, the party was just beginning.
Knocking Kunkel, Seth Morris and Shane Boyd out of the game in the ninth, Madison went to lefty Bryan Felkel to keep the Waves from crashing across the plate. The senior from Valdosta, Ga. delivered a two-out, bases loaded, RBI single to junior first baseman Ty Harper, scoring Jason Durbin to end the game.
"We just couldn't stop the bleeding," Newton said. "We kept throwing guys in there and they were working hard but we couldn't outlast them. It's very tough to have to deal with this kind of loss, but as a team, it's important to understand that we have an entire season in front of us. We have to put it behind us and look at getting the next one tomorrow."
The Cats will next face Washington State at 11 a.m ET and No. 20 Texas A&M at 9 p.m. ET on Monday to end play in the Aggie Baseball Classic.
Kentucky 005 106 212 - 17 14 2
Pepperdine 001 060 128 - 18 22 2
Win - Hobbs (1-0)
Loss - Felkel (0-1)
Time - 3:44