This tournament was supposed to be a coming-out party for a new era in Kentucky baseball. After such a wonderful regular season, this was the Batcats'chance to show the world that from now on they were going to be a force amongst the nation's elite programs.
Kentucky starter Craig Snipp threw out the first pitch at 10:07 a.m., and 22 Georgia hits later the Batcats were back on I-65 heading towards Lexington as the first team eliminated from this year's tournament after a 16-10 defeat to the Bulldogs.
"In no way are we satisfied with just getting to the SEC Tournament," Coach John Cohen said after the game. "In no way are we satisfied with the way we played at all. That's not the way we approached this thing and if you ask any of my guys they will tell you the same thing."
Though Kentucky's efforts were not enough, they were not all bad.
Kentucky hit eight doubles on the afternoon, tying the SEC Tournament record for the most in a single game. Just a day after failing to produce enough run support to bolster an outstanding pitching performance from Tommy Warner, the Kentucky pushed across 10 runs today. The Wildcats got off to a hot start, and early on it appeared as though they were in complete control.
In the bottom of the first Sean Coughlin and Ryan Strieby both doubled off of the deep outfield fence at Hoover Met to plate the first run of the contest.
In the second, designated hitter Billy Grace hit another Wildcat double to put himself on second base with one out. In a gutsy call, Coach John Cohen decided to sacrifice, as Ryan Wilkes laid down a perfect bunt that moved Grace to third base with two outs. With Shuan Lehmann in the box, Georgia starter Brooks Brown sent a wild pitch into the dirt that catcher Jason Jacobs could not save. The wild pitch allowed Grace to score and put the Batcats out front 2-0.
Georgia cut into that lead in the top of the third inning, slapping three ground ball singles to score their first run of the day.
UK continued to manufacture runs. Centerfielder Antone DeJesus led off the bottom half of the third with yet another double. Collin Cowgill sacrificed him to third, and DeJesus scampered home on another wild pitch from Bulldog starter Brooks Brown.
But Georgia would continue to use the same style of play that Vanderbilt had beaten them with just a day before, hitting the top half of the baseball to hit line drives and ground balls and put the pressure on UK's defense.
The Bulldogs opened the fourth inning with three singles and a double, tying the game at three apiece before Kentucky could record their first out. After Peisel was forced out at third on a failed sacrifice bunt attempt, Joey Side singled to load the bases with only one man out. Gordon Beckham hit a slow roller to second that would have scored one run on a fielder's choice, but John Shelby made an errant throw to first that go by Strieby, allowing an additional Bulldog runner to cross home plate and give Georgia the 5-3 lead.
With runners on second and third, a wild pitch from Craig Snipp gave Georgia their fifth run of the inning and a 6-3 lead. Snipp would make an early exit, bowing out after only three and one third innings.
Kentucky's Billy Grace singled for his second hit of the contest to lead off the fourth inning. Ryan Wilkes belted another double to left-center field, cutting Georgia's lead to 6-4. But Wilkes was thrown out at third base on a failed sacrifice by Shaun Lehmann that kept the Batcats from being able to hang a crooked number against Brown.
But Georgia would continue to do the things they needed to do to score runs and score them in bunches. The Bulldogs batted around for the second straight inning in the fifth, plating four more runs on six singles in the inning to extend their lead over the Wildcats to 10-4.
In the bottom of the fifth, Ryan Strieby turned on a full count pitch, launching a home run that easily cleared the deep confines of Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. It was his 20th home run of the year and his sixth in his last nine ball games.
After DeJesus doubled in the sixth inning, Georgia turned to left-handed reliever Rip Warren to replace Brown. Warren had already recorded two wins against the Wildcats during this calendar week. Warren strikes out Collin Cowgill to give Kentucky its first scoreless inning of the day.
In the top of the seventh, Georgia would smash three more singles, tacking on three extra runs that would put this game even out of the reach of UK's high powered offense.
Shelby's two-run home run in the seventh brought the Batcats within six runs of the Bulldogs, but Georgia would tally up three more singles in the ninth to bump their run total up to 16 for the afternoon, which set a new season high for them.
Kentucky plated three runs in the bottom of the ninth before Jason Fellows could close it out and nail down the 16-10 victory for Georgia, eliminating UK from the SEC Tournament.
"It was a tough loss today," third baseman Michael Bertram said. "But I don't think anybody questions our competitiveness. We came out today, and we competed. We obviously didn't want to go two and out down here, but I think it was a definite learning experience for us. We are ready to put today behind us, get back to working hard in practice, and get ready for the up and coming regional."
The two teams combined for 35 hits on Thursday, setting an SEC Tournament record, but most of the work at the plate was done by Georgia.
The 22 hits pounded out by the Bulldogs set a season high for them and were the most hits put up against the Wildcats this year. It is the third most hits a team has recorded in a single game in SEC Tournament history. The 16 runs set a season high for Georgia as well.
The Batcats hope their disappointments in Hoover do not cost them the opportunity to host an NCAA regional. They anxiously await the NCAA's decision, which will be announced Sunday, May 28 at 3:30 p.m.