Baseball: Kentucky 3 Vanderbilt 1

LEXINGTON-- It was predicted to be a showdown between the SEC's top left-handed pitchers and in the end it came down to defense and timely hitting as Vanderbilt fell 3-1 to Kentucky Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Vanderbilt's pitching kept the Wildcat offense at bay the whole game but the Commodore bats mustered only two hits of their own off Kentucky's left-handed ace James Paxton.

The Wildcats put pressure on the Commodores in the bottom of the first frame with a couple of singles by Chris Bisson and Keenan Wiley through the middle infield, putting runners on first and second. Kentucky got on the scoreboard first as Braden Kapteyn drove in Chris Wade on a field choice, putting the Cats ahead 1-0. Minor got the ‘Dores out of the inning on his own, getting Marcus Nidiffer to foul out before picking off Braden Kapteyn for the third out of inning. The Chapel Hill, Tenn., native picked off two Wildcats in the first inning to limit the Cats to one run in the inning.

UK added to its 1-0 lead with another run in the bottom of the third when Kapteyn drove a Minor pitch up the middle to score Chris Bisson, giving the Wildcats a 2-0 lead. After hitting Nidiffer, Minor got Chad Wright to fly out to center for the third out, stranding three Wildcats on base and ending the Wildcat threat.

Meanwhile Paxton held the ‘Dores hitless through the first three frames, striking out Vanderbilt batters along the way.

VU's offensive struggle continued until the top of the fourth inning when Casali drew a one-out walk. The Commodores got its first runner in scoring position when Casali advanced to second base on a Aaron Westlake groundout to second base. In the next at-bat, Vanderbilt got on the board when Joe Loftus drove a two-out Paxton fastball into leftfield scoring Casali from second base, cutting the UK lead to one run, 2-1.

After walking the lead-off batter in the bottom of the fourth inning, UK used a sacrifice bunt to move Frazier into scoring position. Frazier than advanced to third on a past ball by Vanderbilt's Drew Fann. With the pressure tightening, Minor put an end to the Wildcat threat as he got Andy Burns ground out before before fanning Bisson for the third out of the inning.

The Wildcats added to its lead in the bottom of the fifth inning when Kapteyn grounded out to first, scoring Wade from third base. Casali and the Commodores nearly missed a double play opportunity as Wade's aggressive slide just beat Casali's throw to the plate. The run for the Wildcats was unearned due to a Riley Reynolds error and past ball earlier in the inning.

VU got its lead-off man on in the top of the sixth when Brian Harris drew a six-pitch walk. After working the count full, Casali nearly missed a two-run homerun as he jumped on a Paxton fastball, driving it to the center field wall before UK's Wiley caught the ball just to the right of the 390 ft-mark against the center-field wall.

Vanderbilt's second offensive threat of the game came in the top of the seventh when Reynolds beat out a grounder to third base forcing the Wildcats to go to the bullpen for the first time. UK brought in Logan Darnell to face Alex Hilliard. After working the count to 2-2, Hilliard looped a single into right field putting runners on first and second. Hilliard's hit was just the third hit of the game for the Commodores.

Following the single, Hilliard and Reynolds advanced to second and third base after a Darnell wild pitch, putting the tying run on second base. VU couldn't capitalize on the opportunity as Darnell got Drew Fann to ground out to short, stranding the two runners on second and third, ending the top of the seventh.

Chase Reid entered the game in the eighth inning, replacing Minor. After giving up two straight singles to start the inning, Reid put down Frazier and Korus on strikes before getting Andy Burns to ground out to Brian Harris at shortstop to end the inning.

VU tried to put together a rally in the ninth when Loftus reached first base on a throwing error by UK's Burns at third base, but Jason Esposito grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.

The two starting pitchers lived up to expectations as they limited both offenses the entire night. Paxton improved to 4-0 on the season, after allowing one run and two hits while striking out 10 VU batters in 6.2 innings of work. Minor fell to 1-2 on the season despite putting together a solid line. The junior southpaw allowed three runs, two earned, scattering six hits with three strikeouts in seven innings. Neither pitcher allowed an extra-base hit all night.

"We knew going into tonight that Paxton was a dominating pitcher and that we would have to make all of the plays to win the game and we just couldn't pull through tonight," starting pitcher Mike Minor said. "We made a few errors tonight that kind of cost us but we know we can make those plays and we are out there giving it our all."

Game two of the series will get underway tomorrow with opening pitch slated for 1 p.m. ET from Cliff Hagan Stadium. Vanderbilt will send right-hander Caleb Cotham (3-1, 2.77 ERA) to the mound to face Kentucky's left-hander Chris Rusin (3-1, 3.33 ERA).

 
Vanderbilt 000 100 000 - 133           
Kentucky   101 010 000 - 381


Minor, Reid (8) and Fann. Paxton, Darnell (7) and Nidiffer. W- Paxton 4-0, L- Minor 1-2. Sv- Darnell (2).

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