Littrell pours it on to end Kentucky baseball's 'dry spell'

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 5, 2012 

With Florida bidding to become the first team to sweep Kentucky all season, Corey Littrell said "later, Gator."

Littrell took a shutout into the ninth inning and the Wildcats held on for a 2-1 victory before a Cliff Hagan Stadium crowd of 2,607.

Florida (35-13, 14-10 Southeastern Conference) won the first two games of the series but, after Saturday's loss, trails UK (37-11, 15-9) by a game for second place in the SEC East. First-place South Carolina, which lost at Arkansas, leads UK by a half-game.

"I'm proud of our kids," Coach Gary Henderson said after third-ranked UK snapped a season-long four-game losing streak. "Everybody else in our league has had a dry spell. All other 11 teams have had one. So maybe that's our turn. We'd like to get it going."

Littrell (7-0) scattered nine hits and struck out five in his longest outing, dropping his ERA to 2.30. He said his fastball and cutter were on and, from the sixth inning, so was his change-up. He threw 104 pitches, 69 for strikes.

He retired the fifth-ranked Gators in order only once — in the eighth inning — but kept putting zeroes on the scoreboard until Daniel Piggott led off the ninth inning with a home run.

"If the first person gets a hit, I don't freak out like I would have last year," said Littrell, a sophomore left-hander out of Louisville Trinity. "I just know I need to make a pitch and I'll be fine."

With the home run, Henderson went to his closer, Trevor Gott.

He gave up a one-out single and a balk to put the tying run in scoring position, but got pinch-hitter Jeff Moyer to foul out.

Nolan Fontana then hit a sinking soft liner. Second baseman J.T. Riddle made a diving grab on the dirt to secure the win and Gott's school-record ninth save of the season.

UK's two pitchers combined for six strikeouts and no walks.

Florida left nine runners on base to UK's five.

"It says to me that Corey has grown up," Henderson said. "He's able to slow the game down a little bit. He's not going to 'effort' when there's guys on base; he's going to 'command,' which he clearly did today. It's called maturation."

Florida lefty and projected first-round draft pick Brian Johnson (5-4) held UK to a run and four hits over five innings.

Michael Williams, not the fleetest of Cats, legged out a one-out double in the fifth, then hustled to third on Brian Adams' fly to deep right.

Matt Reida, the No. 9 hitter, brought Williams home when he lined a high off-speed pitch up the middle.

"Today we wanted to be on the attack, come out swinging," Reida said. "And we finally got some runs when it counted."

The Cats added a run in the eighth.

Austin Cousino led off with a single, continuing to second when center fielder Piggott bobbled the ball for an error.

Zac Zellers' bunt moved Cousino to third, and he scored on Luke Maile's slow roller to third.

Cousino and Williams each finished with two of UK's seven hits.

Justin Shafer had three of Florida's 10 hits.

"Kentucky's got a great team, and there's no wonder why they're in position the way they are with two series left," Florida Coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "They've got really solid pitching. Their bullpen, they do a good job mixing and matching out of the pen. I really like their lineup. It's right-left, right-left all the way down. It makes it a little bit more difficult on your pen when you decide to go to the bullpen.

"They've got a really good team and we're very fortunate to win two out of three. Today was a great ball game. It came down to a play here or a pitch there, and Littrell was outstanding today."

■ UK is 13-4 in one-run games. The Cats are 11-0 when wearing black jerseys and white pants, as they did Saturday.

■ Adams went 1-for-3 in his first start of the season.

■ Gott had shared the season record of eight saves with Paul Morse (1993).

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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