For all the emphasis on conference play, there's no denying that a non-league game between Kentucky and Louisville is special.
"It's a big rivalry. It hurts when we lose and it feels great when we win," U of L Coach Dan McDonnell said Tuesday after his Cardinals drubbed UK 11-2 at Cliff Hagan Stadium. "We build this game up. We don't downplay it."
The teams split their home-and-home series for the third year in a row. UK, which won 8-7 April 14 at Louisville, leads the all-time series 62-32-1.
Afterwards, UK Coach Gary Henderson huddled with his players in right field. His message?
"We've got to learn how to respond when things don't go our way," Henderson said.
UK right-hander Clint Tilford held Louisville to two runs, one earned, through 51⁄3 innings.
But U of L pitchers were up to the challenge, starting with Neil Holland, who gave up an unearned run over 12⁄3 innings.
"It's the first start of his career," McDonnell said. "He got us going and he set the tone for the pitching staff. From there, (Gavin) Logsdon, (Derek) Self and (Matt) Lea threw the ball in the zone, so I was real happy to see that."
UK led 1-0 through one inning and 2-1 through five.
Louisville tied on Andrew Clark's home run to lead off the sixth.
The Cards blew it open with six runs in the seventh and three in the eighth.
U of L parlayed four hits, two errors, a walk, a hit batsman and a passed ball to strike in the seventh.
The Cards' Chris Dominguez crushed a three-run homer in the eighth. He concurred that UK is no ordinary non-conference foe.
"It does (mean a lot), for the community and for the people on both sides," Dominguez said. "It means a lot because you're rivals, so these games count."
Every U of L starter had at least one of the Cards' 14 hits. Clark, Dominguez, Drew Haynes, Phil Wunderlich and John Dao had two hits each.
UK totaled six hits, including two each by Andy Burns and Chris McClendon.
An error by third baseman McClendon led to Louisville's first run, in the fifth. Errors by shortstop Burns and reliever Logan Darnell contributed to the six-run seventh.
"Tilford was very good tonight," Henderson said. "What went wrong is that we dropped a ball that we should catch and immediately we get on our heels and didn't catch a ground ball that we should catch. You've got two errors back-to-back and, next thing you know, you give them six outs. You give somebody six outs in baseball and they're going to score."
Both UK runs were unearned.
In the first, Burns walked, stole second and took third on an error. Chris Bisson's groundout drove in Burns.
In the fourth, another error helped set the table for Burns to single in Marcus Nidiffer.
■ Burns started at shortstop in place of Chris Wade, who is sidelined by a sore hamstring. Wade, a sophomore out of Lexington Christian, had started all 106 games of his collegiate career. In fact, he had played every inning until being taken out late in Sunday's game at Alabama, also due to the hamstring.
■ Alex Meyer, UK's Sunday starting pitcher, was on crutches Tuesday, a result of having taken a line drive off his left calf at Alabama. His status for this weekend's series against Tennessee is uncertain.