LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For more than eight innings, the University of Kentucky baseball team was listless. Dull. Silent. Quiet. Choose your own word for uninspired. They all work.
The Wildcats were going, going, gone from the NCAA Tournament. One pitch – one strike – from elimination.
Wasn’t that a remarkable career A.J. Reed had with the Wildcats? Too bad it had to end this way. But at least he’ll make a ton of money when his name gets called early in the MLB Free Agent Draft next week, right?
Then the Wildcats delivered the kind of moment you expect from Aaron Harrison. They rolled a YAHTZEE! Several. Coach Gary Henderson tweaked something. Kentucky went from trailing Kent State, 2-0, to winning 4-2, faster than A.J. Reed can toss a fastball.
Flyout. Single. Balk. Double. One run. Strikeout. Walk. Walk. Double. Two more runs. Single. Another run. From listless to dynamic.
Kentucky had three hits in the first 8 1/3 innings and then four more with two outs in the ninth.
“Any time you win a game late, the kids feel good,” UK coach Gary Henderson said. “Everybody feels good. Your fans feel good, the coaches, the players. Winning late or losing late has a greater impact. I think it does in all sports.”
Kentucky won – and positioned itself to play another elimination game Sunday at noon at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Win at noon and the Wildcats will play again at 4 p.m. Win at 4 p.m. and, well, let’s get back to what happened Saturday.
Kentucky was supposed to be playing Louisville Saturday. Didn’t happen. Not because the Cardinals did not cooperate. Louisville won its opener against Kent State Friday.
It was Kentucky that whiffed – giving up six runs in the first two innings of a jarring, sloppy 10-6 loss to Kansas.
For eight innings Saturday, the Wildcats played like a team that was disappointed that the Cardinals were not in the other dugout.
Kent State scored twice in the first. Kentucky did not have an answer. Three base runners in eight innings. All singles. Nobody reached second base. They made Nick Jensen-Clagg, the Kent starter, look like a first-round draft pick. The kid from Kent was so good that he started the ninth inning – and no Kent pitcher had completed a game all season.
“That guy was messing us up with his change up,” Reed said.
Kent still does not have a complete game.
Austin Cousino flew out to left. Max Kuhn pulled a single into left field – and moved to second on a balk. Kent had a decision to make – risk letting Reed launch his 24th home run or walk him and put the tying run on first.
“I thought they would walk me after the balk,” Reed said. “But they elected not to and I’m thankful for that.”
Here’s why: Reed doubled to right center. Now it was 2-1. After Ka’ai Tom struck out, the next two Kentucky hitters walked against Kent reliever John Fasola. Nothing remarkable about that – except Storm Wilson fell behind 1-2 in the count before earning his walk.
Thomas Bernal, UK’s first baseman, hit next. Bernal had not driven in two runs in a game since April 18. He fought off an inside breaking ball for a soft fly ball that died in the wind near the line for a double.
“You’re talking about my laser to left, right?” Bernal asked.
Sure. When you drive in the runs that save a team’s season, you can call it anything you like.
“When I hit it, I looked at the left fielder and saw he was playing by the (warning) track,” Bernal said. “I got lucky a little bit and was glad it fell.”
Kentucky scored one more run on a single by Matt Reida. Reed completed the final three outs in the bottom of the ninth. Reed pitched the way that a first-round draft pick is supposed to pitch – he never went to three balls on any hitter all day.
Then, the only lingering questions were who will the Wildcats pitch Sunday and will Reed be available to throw again Monday if Kentucky fights off two more elimination games?
Henderson said he has six candidates for Sunday. And Reed on Monday?
“I’d have to get there and see,” Henderson said. “But my gut feeling is that he’s done pitching for us … here.”
A wry smile from Henderson.
“I would love to have that problem Monday,” he said.