ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A pair of close plays at the plate went Kentucky's way Saturday.
Which is how the Wildcats survived an NCAA Baseball Regional elimination game, edging Eastern Michigan 4-3.
Oh, Andrew Albers also helped — to the tune of four shutout innings in relief.
”We played well enough to win, not much beyond that,“ said UK Coach John Cohen, seated next to Albers at the post-game press conference. ”A big reason for (the win) is this guy sitting to my left. I thought he was spectacular.“
So UK, a 7-5 loser to Michigan earlier in the day, lives to play another day at Ray Fisher Stadium.
On Sunday at 2 p.m., the Cats will face Michigan, who lost to Arizona. The winner of that game will face Arizona on Sunday at 7 p.m. If necessary, a final game would be played Monday.
UK (43-18) needs one win to tie the school-record total of 44 set in 2006.
”I know we're a better club than the way we were playing, but I'm just thankful that we won the game,“ Cohen said. ”When all the pistons fire in one direction for us, I think we have a chance to be as good as anybody, and I'm real hopeful that's going to happen tomorrow.“
Eastern Michigan (25-34) fell to 0-3 against the Cats. UK swept a doubleheader on March 11, 18-5 and 8-6, at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
That was part of an 0-17 start for the Eagles, who were picked to finish fifth in the Mid-American Conference. Eastern turned things around, winning the MAC Tournament. They wanted more than an 0-2 NCAA experience, though.
”Disappointing loss,“ Coach Jack Boss said. ”I really thought we should have won the game, and I think if we would have executed a few plays, we would have won the game.“
All the scoring came in the first three innings.
Close call No. 1 came with one out in the bottom of the third, with UK trailing 3-2. With Wildcats on first and second, Chris McClendon laced the first of his two singles.
Sawyer Carroll, the runner on second, was waived home by third-base coach Brad Bohannon. The throw from left-fielder Michael Boyd was in time, but Carroll slid underneath the tag of catcher Andrew Marshall. While Marshall quickly protested, Collin Cowgill sneaked ahead to third and McClendon took second.
”We take a lot of pride in really attacking what's available,“ Cohen said. ”We call that a heads-down play. When anybody in the infield has their head down, we try to take an extra base.“
Brian Spear then launched a sacrifice fly to left, Cowgill scoring the final run of the game.
Close call No. 2 came with EMU batting in the fifth.
Boyd led off with a single, took second on a wild pitch by Greg Dombrowski (6-1) and moved to third on a groundout.
With one out and the infield in, Aaron Powell pounded a grounder to McClendon at third. Boyd broke for the plate, and McClendon came up firing home.
”I was just fortunate to put the throw on the money,“ McClendon said.
Marcus Nidiffer applied the tag.
”Our philosophy with one out is we're going to run,“ Boss said. ”I don't care who knows it. ... If there's a play at the plate and we're thrown out at the plate, we like our guys to get in a rundown. With one out, we're going to put pressure on their infielders to make a play.“
Had Boyd forced a rundown, Powell mighthave been able to move into scoring position. Didn't happen.
Albers took over from Dombrowski to start the sixth. He scattered three singles, didn't issue a walk, struck out two and picked off a runner.
”Eastern Michigan, they've got some guys that can really hit the ball,“ Albers said. ”I just tried to work down, tried to get ahead. And, luckily, the balls that were put in play were hit at our guys and our guys did a great job defensively.“
Eagles right-hander Matt Shoemaker (5-4) was the hard-luck loser. He worked 71⁄3 innings, giving up four runs, three earned, on seven hits. He walked one and struck out four.
”Matt did a great job for us. Got better as the game went on,“ Boss said. ”We didn't help him out in the first and third innings and it came back to haunt us.“
Steve Bradshaw's RBI single gave the Eagles a first-inning lead.
Carroll's two-run homer in the bottom of the inning swung the lead to UK.
Carroll finished 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs. He extended his hitting streak to 14 games and his UK single-season RBI record to 81. His 18th homer came two at-bats after No. 17, during the completion of the rain-delayed game against Michigan. Both shots were opposite field, to left.
”The wind's howling in from right and the ball's not going to go anywhere that way,“ Carroll said. ”So I'm just basically taking inside pitches until two strikes and just trying to get wide over the plate, that I can get up in that wind and let it carry over that wall.“
Eastern scored twice in the third to take a 3-2 lead. Bradshaw singled up the middle to score one. Jeff Davis knocked in the other with a sacrifice fly.
The Eagles outhit the Cats 9-7, with Bradshaw, Boyd, Kyle Rhoad and Zack Leonard each getting two hits. But Carroll's homer was the only extra-base hit for either team.