HOOVER, Ala. — Pinch hitter Zach Arnold's chopper in the infield scored Matt Reida to lead Kentucky past Mississippi State 7-6 in 12 innings in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Kentucky (35-22) fought back constantly throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning, rallying from a 4-1 deficit and scoring the tying run in the ninth inning to force extra innings. The Wildcats had 16 hits and overcame four errors.
Mississippi State (37-21) will face top-seed Florida on Friday in an elimination game. Kentucky gets to rest for a day before playing in the semifinals Saturday.
“The game was an absolute war,” Reida said. “Mississippi State played an unbelievable game, so did we. We just kept coming at each other. It could’ve gone either way. There was such small margin of error. It came down to a couple close calls. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
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Played in front of a crowd of 8,501, the game ended at 12:46 a.m. local time. The teams combined for 32 hits in a four-hour and 36 minute game that was the longest in SEC Tournament history in terms of time.
Gavin Collins had four hits for Mississippi State. Reida had four hits for the Wildcats, including two doubles.
Kentucky's Spencer Jack (4-1) earned the win, throwing four innings of relief while giving up just one unearned run.
Reida led off the bottom of the 12th inning with a double, his second of the game, and after a walk from pinch hitter Dorian Hairston and an intentional pass to Austin Cousino, the bases were loaded for Max Kuhn. MSU reliever Preston Brown got Kuhn to strike out swinging, bringing Marcus Carson — who had entered the game in the ninth to pinch-run for A.J. Reed — to the plate. UK turned to Arnold, a sophomore reserve catcher, to pinch-hit. Arnold smacked the first pitch he saw into the hole on the left side of the infield, with Reida motoring home to score the walk-off run.
UK has won three games in the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1996, equaling a school record set in 1995. “The fight was outstanding,” said UK Coach Gary Henderson, who won his fifth SEC Tournament game in three years. “It wasn’t terribly clean a few different times, but I thought the fight and the competitiveness and the spirit was outstanding. I am really proud of that.”
With the win, Kentucky advances to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the second time in the last three years. UK, which beat No. 24 Alabama and No. 7 Florida on the first two days of the tourney, will now face the winner of Mississippi State and Florida. The semifinal game, Saturday's second semifinal following a 1 p.m. opener, will be televised nationally on ESPNews and broadcast live on WLAP 630-AM.