GEORGE: UK Sweeps State; Clinches SEC East

On Friday, they did it with the bats. On Saturday, it was their pitching. But on Mother's Day, Kentucky rode their defense to clinch the SEC Eastern Division championship with a 10-9 series-sweeping win over Mississippi State.

Leaping grabs, outfield assists, and acrobatic double plays dazzled the 1,812 fans in attendance at Cliff Hagan Stadium. But more importantly, they minimized the damage done by the Bulldog's lineup, helping the Batcats hold on narrow lead and earn their record 19th conference win of the season.

Bulldog's Andy Rice drove in the first run of the game, belting a double that scored Joseph Hunter. With Rice on second, Jeff Butts hit a two-out single to left fielder Shaun Lehmann. Rice rounded third and headed for home, but Lehmann delivered a perfectly thrown ball to nail him at the plate and save a run.

Kentucky continued to not only limit Mississippi State's scoring opportunities, but to answer them. In every inning that the Bulldogs scored, Kentucky responded with runs of their own.

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the second Lehmann, fresh off his outfield assist, slapped a single into right field that plated two Wildcat runs. Bulldog starter Chad Crosswhite would later walk in a run, putting the Cats ahead 3-1.

Trailing 6-3 in the fifth inning, Mississippi State worked the bases loaded with nobody out against Wildcat reliever Chris Rusin. Brian LaNinfa hit a hard grounder up the middle, but second baseman John Shelby made a lunging snare to save a base hit. Shelby was off balance, but had the wherewithal to step on second and hurl the ball towards first base while falling down, turning a miraculous double play that limited the Bulldogs to just one run.

"The play made by Shelby might be one of the best plays I've ever seen in college baseball," head coach John Cohen said.

After giving up two runs in the sixth inning, reliever Troy Ragle induced a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded to get out of the inning and keep Mississippi State from scoring any more runs.

UK carried a 10-7 lead into the top of the ninth when Mississippi State catcher Edward Easely led off the inning with a sharp single against releiver Andrew Albers. Brian LaNinfa singled and Mitch Moreland drew a walk to load the bases with only one out. Albers struck out Joseph Hunter on three pitches before Andy Rice ripped a single that plated two runs and cut Kentucky's lead to 10-9.

With two men on, Albers got Joseph McCaskill to fly out to Ryan Strieby, doing just enough to earn his second save in as many nights and seal the sweep for the Wildcats.

"You know, we just had to make things interesting," joked Albers after the game. "We can't win something easy. We've got to keep everyone entertained."

"But it was a little nerve-racking," Albers added on a more serious note. "Mississippi State has a really good club. The nice thing about college baseball is that the game is never over, and a good example of that was tonight. If some other balls fall in there, all of a sudden we are playing in the bottom of the ninth again."

Kentucky improves to 40-11 (19-9 in the SEC) and will host Belmont on Monday night at 6:30 p.m.

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