UK baseball loses NCAA opener to Kansas 10-6

jtipton@herald-leader.comMay 30, 2014 

  • NCAA BASEBALL TOURNAMENT

    Kentucky vs. Kent State

    When: 1 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Louisville

    Louisville vs. Kansas

    When: 5 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Louisville

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky ... rallied ... twice ... from ... three-run ... deficits ... before ... losing ... to ... Kansas ... 10-6 ... Friday ... afternoon ... and ... evening ... in ... an ... interminable ... first ... round ... game ... of ... the ... NCAA ... regional ... baseball ... tournament ... here.

Rain and/or lightning delays made for a game scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. that didn't end until 8:41 p.m.

After a game that saw more sitting (three hours and 21 minutes) than playing (three hours and 14 minutes), Kentucky fell into the losers' bracket, where history suggests it's unlikely for a team to win its way to a regional championship and berth in the College World Series. In 80 regional tournaments the past five years, only eight teams have advanced to the World Series after losing the first game.

"The bottom line is it's hard," Coach Gary Henderson said of UK's position. "It's not impossible. It'll probably happen this year with somebody. There are 16 of these (regionals). Somebody will probably go through the losers' bracket to win it. Might as well be us."

Kentucky (35-24) will play again Saturday at 1 p.m. The Cats will play the loser of Friday night's second game between top-seeded Louisville and Kent State. UK, which is expected to start ace A.J. Reed on Saturday, will have to win four straight games to win the regional.

During Thursday's news conferences, coaches in this regional emphasized the importance of winning the first game. Kentucky couldn't have gotten off to a poorer start. After lightning delayed the start 20 minutes, the Cats committed two errors in the first inning, and got only one out and trailed 3-0 when rain returned and forced another delay after only 14 minutes of action.

UK starter Kyle Cody threw 27 pitches, including 14 strikes. After walking the leadoff hitter, Cody's throwing error on a bunt gave Kansas runners on first and third. Another bunt (this time fielded and underhanded to first in shaky fashion by Cody) gave Kansas a 1-0 lead. Dakota Smith made it 2-0 by lining a double into the left-center gap.

Tucker Tharp followed with a single between third and short, moving Smith to third. Tharp then stole second, and the throw by UK catcher Micheal Thomas sailed through the drizzle into right-center field, allowing Smith to score the third run of the inning.

"I certainly didn't see that coming," Henderson said of Cody's struggles. The UK coach noted how Cody gave up only four hits and two runs in five-plus innings against powerhouse Florida (No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament) at the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week. "I certainly thought he was ready," Henderson said.

Kansas became only the fourth UK opponent to score three or more runs in the first inning this season. Previously, UK had given up only 25 first-inning runs, the fewest in any inning.

With rain steadily increasing in intensity and Tharp standing on third, the game was halted.

After a delay of 63 minutes, play resumed. Anthony Nelson replaced Cody and needed only nine pitches to strike out two batters to end the first half of the first inning an hour and 27 minutes after it began.

Four batters into UK's half of the inning, the score was tied. Ka'ai Tom tied it with a three-run homer.

Counting delays, the first inning lasted an hour and 35 minutes. The pitchers threw 62 pitches to get six outs.

Kansas re-established a three-run lead in the second inning. After Nelson retired the first two hitters, the Jayhawks used two walks and three straight singles to build a 6-3 lead.

Kentucky chipped away, tying it in the fourth on Thomas Bernal's two-run double.

After another weather-related delay of an hour and 58 minutes in the fifth inning, Kentucky boldly (or ill-advisedly) tried to take the lead in the sixth. Storm Wilson tagged and tried to score from third on Matt Reida's shallow fly to left. The one-hop throw to the plate beat Wilson easily.

"I thought the gamble was OK," Henderson said. "I didn't think it was great, but I didn't think it was bad. I thought it was a decent gamble."

Kansas (35-24) considered it a big momentum shift.

"That really sprung us," said Drew Morovick, who picked up the win by giving up one hit in three-plus innings of shutout relief. "That was huge."

Kansas regained the lead with two runs in the seventh and two in the eighth off Chandler Shepherd, a likely Game 3 starter here pressed into service when Cody faltered.

Going into the bottom of the fifth inning, the teams had played baseball for an hour and 42 minutes. They had also waited out delays totaling three hours and 21 minutes.

"One of the most unusual games I've ever ben involved in," said Kansas Coach Ritch Price, who voiced gratitude for the artificial surface at U of L's Jim Patterson Stadium. "If this was a dirt and grass field, that game would have been called in the first inning."

Henderson cautioned against attributing Kentucky's defeat to the weather.

"It certainly didn't affect our pitching in the first two innings," the UK coach said. "That's the crux of the matter right there.

"So, no, I wouldn't attribute anything that happened today to rain, lightning, delays, (stoppages). Any of it. We just didn't play well enough."

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

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