Kentucky's baseball comeback falls short in 10-9 thriller

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 13, 2013 

Reed_AJ.JPG

A.J. Reed, 2013 University of Kentucky Baseball. Credit: UK Athletics

UK ATHLETICS

  • Sunday

    Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 1 p.m.

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Desperation took the form of a 5-foot-9, 155-pound freshman infielder pitching for the first time as a college player Saturday afternoon.

Tennessee's Jeff Moberg hadn't pitched since his junior season in high school. "A long time ago," he said.

Yet, there he stood in the ninth inning holding the ball and the baseball fate of two teams this day in his right hand.

Tennessee, which had lost eight straight Southeastern Conference games, led 10-5 going into the ninth inning. A grand slam by Kentucky slugger A.J. Reed made a seemingly impossible UK victory plausible.

The cheers of a Cliff Hagan Stadium crowd of 2,726 grew louder as the next two UK hitters got on base via a walk and infield hit. Tennessee turned to Moberg to get the final out.

"I didn't want to do that to him," UT Coach Dave Serrano said. "But we're searching.

"Really, at that point, we just needed somebody to throw the ball over the plate. If they were going to beat us, they were going to beat us by hitting the baseball."

In the game's final two innings, Tennessee pitchers walked four hitters and hit three other batters.

Tennessee's first two relievers brought SEC earned-run averages of 31.91 and 11.57 into the game.

Moberg promptly hit Kentucky catcher Micheal Thomas with his first pitch to re-load the bases.

"A curveball," Moberg said. "it broke too late."

That brought up shortstop Matt Reida. After taking two balls, a Kentucky victory seemed likely if not inevitable.

Afterward, Moberg said he'd thrown only 15 pitches off a mound — about a week ago — in the last 18 months. "Just to get a feel for it," he said.

Serrano saw enough in the those 15 pitches to put Moberg in the game. "We know he throws strikes," the UT coach said "and he has a little curveball."

Reida took the next pitch for a strike. He ripped Moberg's next pitch on a line to deep right-center.

"I knew the wind was blowing in a little bit," Moberg said of the 18 mph breeze whipping from the right-field corner to the left-field corner. "And we have a good center fielder."

Parker Wormsley retreated to near the warning track to catch Reida's hit.

Moberg got the save as Tennessee held on for a 10-9 victory.

The wind, which aided the grand slam by Reed and earlier solo blast by Max Kuhn, dashed UK Coach Gary Henderson's hopes as he watched the ball sail off Reida's bat.

"I would have felt better if it was on the other side of the field with the wind blowing that way (out to left field)," he said. "But hitting it in the teeth of the wind. that was a tough one."

Kentucky, 24-10 overall and 7-7 in the SEC, trailed most of the game. Tennessee starter Nick Williams, who had a 9.60 ERA in SEC play, limited UK to four hits over first seven-plus innings.

It wasn't the first memorable performance at Kentucky for Williams, whose older brother Michael played catcher for UK. Two years ago as a freshman, he struck out his brother here in a relief appearance.

"Nick did a great job establishing his fast ball and throwing a good curveball," Serrano said. "It kind of blemished it a little bit because of what went down in the ninth inning. But a win is a win."

For that, Tennessee (15-18, 4-10 in the SEC), could thank Moberg, the infielder who became a closer on this memorable day.


Sunday

Tennessee at Kentucky

When: 1 p.m.

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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