Seven walks. Two opponents hit by pitches. Your leading hitter having to leave the game because of injury.
Kentucky’s big weekend series with highly ranked South Carolina could hardly have gotten off to a poorer start Friday night. With UK’s generosity, the Gamecocks overcame an early deficit and won 10-5.
“Way too many freebees on our end,” Kentucky Coach Gary Henderson said. “(We) put ourselves in a tough spot.”
After adding up the walks and hit batters, Henderson came to a conclusion. “Nine free bases there,” he said. “It makes it hard.”
Adding to the difficulty was an injury to first baseman Evan White. He injured his left thumb in the sixth inning. Pitcher Zack Brown fielded a sacrifice bunt, but his throw sailed into the baseline. Runner and ball reached White at the same time.
White, UK’s leading hitter (his two hits improved his batting average to .367), finished the inning, but departed for a pinch hitter in the seventh.
When asked about the severity of the injury, Henderson said, “We’ll find out tomorrow morning. We certainly need him to be healthy.”
Four home runs inside the first five innings gave the game some punch on what UK calls its Fireworks Friday. The colorful display made minimal impact as the crowd announced at 2,395 departed.
Kentucky took an early lead when shortstop Riley Mahan hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first. It was his fifth home run of the season and the fifth time an opponent had homered off South Carolina starter Clarke Schmidt this season.
South Carolina got a run back in the third inning when Jonah Bride doubled in Alex Destino.
Kentucky’s lead disappeared an inning later. LT Tolbert, who had the lowest batting average among South Carolina’s starters (.226), hit a home run over the right field fence.
Destino followed with a three-run blast over the center-field fence to give South Carolina a 5-3 lead.
Kentucky got a run closer in the bottom of the fifth when Zach Reks hit a homer to right field.
But South Carolina broke open the game in the top of the sixth. Brown’s throwing error helped the Gamecocks score four runs. With runners on first and second and no outs, he fielded a sacrifice bunt, but his throw was in the baseline and got away from the UK first baseman. The runner on second came around to score.
Later in the inning, Bride doubled in a run. A sacrifice fly plated the fourth run of the inning, which increased South Carolina’s lead to 9-4.
Tristan Pompey’s sacrifice fly brought Kentucky within 9-5 in the bottom of the sixth.
But Kentucky did not score again. South Carolina closer Josh Reagan, who leads the Southeastern Conference in saves, retired the Cats on 10 pitches in the ninth.
South Carolina improved to 36-9 overall and 16-5 in the SEC. Kentucky, which sees a winning league record as a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, fell to 27-19 overall and 11-11 in the SEC.
UK’s ace, Dustin Beggs, will start Saturday’s game with Kyle Cody pitching Sunday.
“We feel good about them,” Henderson said. “And we should feel good about them. … We need to pitch well. We need to give ourselves a chance to win on the mound.”
South Carolina at Kentucky
6:30 p.m. (SEC Plus)