After Kentucky beat LSU 9-4 Saturday, a Bruce Springsteen song came out of the Cliff Hagan Stadium sound system. The Rising seemed an appropriate serenade as UK continued its late-season climb into contention for a berth in the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament.
Three home runs in support of freshman Jordan Cooper's pitching put the Cats in position to sweep LSU for the first time since 1991 (and for only the second time ever). By winning a fourth straight time against a ranked opponent, Kentucky moved within a game of the eighth — and final — spot that qualifies for the upcoming SEC Tournament.
Meanwhile, No. 20 LSU, the defending national champion, lost for the 11th time in the last 13 games.
"That's called baseball," UK Coach Gary Henderson said of the two teams riding different waves of momentum. "Moreso in our sport because you play every day, the freedom seems to get bigger and bigger, and the pressure seems to get heavier and heavier."
Kentucky (28-23 overall, 11-15 SEC) will seek the rare sweep of LSU on Sunday. Game time was moved to noon because of concerns about weather.
Cooper, the SEC Freshman of the Week last week after he gave up four hits in six-plus innings at South Carolina, limited LSU to five hits and one run through the first six innings.
Of Cooper's back-to-back victories against ranked SEC teams, Henderson said, "It's hard to do. You don't see too many (freshmen) do it anywhere."
Cooper, a 6-foot-3 right-hander from Shelbyville, Tenn., needed only 72 pitches through the first six innings. He shelved his change-up, containing the Tigers with a fastball and slider.
In explaining Cooper's recent success, catcher Luke Maile noted a change in pitching philosophy.
"A lot of it is commanding the fastball on the inner part of the plate," Maile said. "That creates a different relationship with the hitters. If you have a 93 mph fastball and a slider, you can pitch in this league."
Maile, a freshman backup, caught Cooper's two solid starts. It was part of Henderson's plan to give starting catcher Marcus Nidiffer a breather by moving him to designated hitter one game each SEC series.
Henderson looked like a genius as Nidiffer had three hits and Maile two, including a two-run homer that started a six-run fourth inning for Kentucky.
"That's a win-win," Henderson said of the production from Nidiffer and Maile.
Maile, the grandson of former LSU basketball All-American Dick Maile and the son of former UK football player Rich Maile, came into the game batting .172.
"I've heard stories from other people," Maile said of the athletic exploits of his grandfather (who was at the game) and his father (who was watching his younger sons play). "When I was 4 years old, I saw Pete Maravich shooting drills all the time on tape. So I knew something was going on with LSU."
Maile, who is from Crestview Hills, called his mother, Laurie, "the real athlete" in the family. "When I was young and Dad was at work, she'd flip me a ball," he said. "The whole family is a bunch of sports junkies."
As hitters, Maile and Nidiffer had plenty of company. Every player in the lineup had at least one hit as Kentucky tied a season-high against an SEC opponent with 17 hits. The Cats also increased their run total to 54 in the last five games.
Freshman outfielder Brian Adams, a wide receiver on UK's football team, contributed two singles and the game's defensive gem. With UK ahead 6-1 in the fifth, he leaped over the left-field fence and caught Mikie Mahtook's bid for a two-run homer.