LEXINGTON - John Shelby launched the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th inning over the wall in left-center field to give No. 21 Kentucky a dramatic 10-9 victory over Southeastern Conference front-runner South Carolina on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The game looked to be over well before Shelby's heroics as UK held a commanding 9-2 lead when starting pitcher Aaron Tennyson turned the ball over with one out in the eighth. However, the Wildcat bullpen allowed six hits and seven Gamecocks crossed the plate to tie it.
Chris Rusin became the fifth UK pitcher of the inning when he entered a tie game with two outs. He promptly got Reese Havens to strikeout and followed that with three perfect innings, retiring all 10 men he faced to improve to 4-0 on the year. It was just the second appearance in conference play for Rusin, a true freshman.
The home run by Shelby allowed the Wildcats to escape a second consecutive blown lead on a Friday night. Last week, UK lost a 9-4 lead in the ninth at Arkansas and dropped a 10-9 decision.
With the win, Kentucky (28-10, 9-7 SEC) became the first team to beat seventh-ranked South Carolina (30-9, 11-5 SEC) on a Friday night this year. The Wildcats go for the series victory on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and will send senior lefty Craig Snipp (4-3, 3.03) to the hill. The Gamecocks counter with southpaw Forrest Beverly (5-2, 5.10).
Kentucky built an early lead the same way it won the game, with home runs. Collin Cowgill blasted his ninth of the year in the first for a 1-0 UK lead and Sean Coughlin hit a mammoth shot in the third that made it 4-0. It was the ninth homer of the year for each.
The Wildcats added two runs in the fifth, one in the sixth and two more in the seventh to stretch their lead to 9-2. It could have been worse as Kentucky stranded 11 runners in the ballgame.
Meanwhile, USC could only tag Tennyson for single runs in the third and fourth. The senior from Milan, Mich., was brilliant, allowing only three runs on six hits to the conference's top hitting team, but earned his fifth straight no-decision.
But the star of the game was Shelby, who went 3-for-3 with an RBI single, a double and the game-winning home run. For good measure, he added a pair of sacrifice bunts that helped the Wildcats score in both the fifth and seventh innings.
Kentucky had a chance to end it in the ninth, loading the bases against reliever Wynn Pelzer. Shelby had walked to lead off the inning, but was caught stealing for the second out. Ryan Wilkes then singled and Shaun Lehmann was hit by a pitch. DeJesus drew a walk to bring up Cowgill, who struck out to end the inning.
Pelzer was charged with the loss, his first this year as he fell to 3-1 after allowing one run on two hits. Shelby single-handedly snapped Pelzer's 19-inning shutout streak in SEC play.
The game was delayed for one hour by heavy rain in the area and did not finish until well past 11 p.m.
LEXINGTON – The 21th-ranked Kentucky baseball team welcomes Southeastern Conference front-runner South Carolina to town this weekend for a three-game series beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
"I think it's a great series for the fans and it's great for the players to be involved in a series like this," Third-year coach John Cohen said. "You have two top 25 teams playing against each other."
The series resumes Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and concludes on Sunday at 1 p.m. Friday night's game can be heard in the Lexington area on WLAP 630-AM while the final two games of the series will be broadcast on WXRA 1580-AM.
"(South Carolina)'s a very good ball club," Cohen said. "They hit, pitch and can field and do all three things very well. I have great respect for Ray Tanner and what he's been able to do there."
The seventh-ranked Gamecocks enter with a 30-9 overall record and an 11-4 league mark, which is three games ahead of UK in the SEC Eastern Division. The Wildcats are 27-10 overall and had their best first half of league play in 14 years at 8-7.
Senior southpaw Aaron Tennyson (4-1, 3.25) gets the nod for Kentucky on Friday night against reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week Mike Cisco (5-0, 2.56). A pair of lefties square off on Saturday as UK sends senior Craig Snipp (4-3, 3.03) to the hill against Forrest Beverly (5-2, 5.14).
"Well, South Carolina's offense is more left-handed dominated, so I think we match up well against that," Cohen said. "We'll throw a lefty in Aaron Tennyson on Friday night and another lefty in Craig Snipp on Saturday. So, hopefully that will play in our favor a little bit."
The series wraps up as the SEC leader in earned-run average, Greg Dombrowski (6-1, 1.86) starts for the Wildcats against right-hander Harris Honeycutt (3-0, 1.95).
The offenses that face the pitching have been good as well. Kentucky features the best scoring offense in the conference, averaging better than 8.4 runs per game. South Carolina is second in the league at 7.5 a contest. Both squads rank in the top 12 in the nation in home runs.
Each team enters the weekend off a win as Kentucky beat rival Louisville, 3-1, on Wednesday night in Louisville. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks downed The Citadel, 11-2.
South Carolina won the series last year in Columbia, but Kentucky scored the series win the last time the two teams met in Lexington, in 2004.
The Kentucky baseball team needs your support; "It will be a challenge for us," Cohen said.
Kentucky – 27-10, 8-7 SEC
South Carolina – 30-9, 11-4 SEC
Kentucky – No. 21 Baseball America
Florida - No. 7 Baseball America
Schedule (times Eastern)
Lexington, Ky. (Cliff Hagan Stadium – 3,000)
Friday, April 21 vs. South Carolina * 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 22 vs. South Carolina * 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 23 vs. South Carolina * 1 p.m.
$5 Reserved Seats; $2 General Admission.
Available through the UK Ticket Office by calling (859) 257-1818 or at the ticket window on game day.
Friday – WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
Saturday – WXRA 1580-AM in Lexington
Sunday – WXRA 1580-AM in Lexington
Friday at South Carolina
LHP Aaron Tennyson, Sr. (4-1, 3.25) vs. RHP Mike Cicso (5-0, 2.56)
Saturday at South Carolina
LHP Craig Snipp, Sr., (4-3, 3.03) vs. LHP Forrest Beverly (5-2, 5.14)
Sunday at South Carolina
RHP Greg Dombrowski, So., (6-1, 1.86) vs. RHP Harris Honeycutt (3-0, 1.95)
Projected UK Line-Up (Avg-HR-RBI)
C (L) Sean Coughlin (.328-8-31)
-or- (R) Justin Scutchfield (.211-0-7)
1B (R) Ryan Strieby (.355-10-49)
2B (R) John Shelby (.239-9-33)
3B (L) Michael Bertram (.342-4-25)
-or- (R) Matt McKinney (.281-1-11)
SS (S) Ryan Wilkes (.257-1-13)
LF (R) Shaun Lehmann.223-5-16)
CF (L) Antone DeJesus.367-2-21)
RF (R) Collin Cowgill (.328-8-33)
DH (L) Billy Grace (.295-5-24)