UK Baseball

No. 23 baseball Cats salvage split with No. 14 Arkansas

Zac Zellers, 2013 University of Kentucky Baseball. Credit: UK Athletics
Zac Zellers, 2013 University of Kentucky Baseball. Credit: UK Athletics UK Athletics

Better to be lucky than good.

Better yet to be lucky, then good.

No. 23 Kentucky, down to its last out, avoided doubleheader and series sweeps Saturday by scoring three runs to edge Arkansas 4-3 at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

The 14th-ranked Razorbacks (31-16, 15-8 Southeastern Conference) won Saturday's opener 5-3, as well as Friday's series opener 2-1.

UK (27-19, 10-14) was on track to be swept despite three quality starts — until luck intervened in the ninth.

The Cats picked up their SEC-leading 10th one-run win of the season.

Greg Fettes and J.T. Riddle started things with singles.

After a popped bunt and a fly to center, the Cats were down to Matt Reida.

His grounder to second looked like a game-ender, but Jordan Farris booted the ball for a run-scoring error.

"Unfortunate for him, but it's good we were able to take advantage of it the way we did," said Zac Zellers, who would drive in the game-winner. "It's part of the game, and we did what we had to do."

"Obviously we got a little bit of help and, after that, we took care of it ourselves," Coach Gary Henderson said.

Kyle Barrett, who earlier stretched his hitting streak to 10 games, lined the next pitch to center field for an RBI single that tied the game at 3.

"I knew (Arkansas right-hander Landon Simpson) wasn't going to throw an off-speed," Barrett said. "We had a runner on third, so I was just ready to hit the fastball, and he left it right where I wanted it."

Zellers followed with a single to center, driving in Reida with the winning run.

"I was pretty loose," Zellers said. "We were able to come back and tie the game, so it wasn't really a do-or-die situation. Just looking for a pitch up that I was able to go the other way, and Matt scored."

"That's four balls hit hard in the bottom of the ninth," Henderson said. "And I'm not sure we had four balls hit hard the first 17 innings. ... To have those guys dial in and be as competitive as they were in the ninth inning, I was really glad to see that. And hopefully that helps us moving forward."

Until the ninth, all the runs came in the first inning.

Two UK errors helped Arkansas to three runs, only one of which was earned.

"I felt like I could have done a little better myself in the first inning, but things just happen that way in baseball and you've got to move past it," said freshman right-hander Kyle Cody, who was making his first SEC start. "And you've got to hope that we can recover ... ."

Cody settled in to work a career-long seven innings. He scattered seven singles, walked three and fanned five.

"I just wanted to go out there and do a good job for the team," said Cody, who threw fastballs down and curveballs for most of the 64 strikes he threw over 103 pitches.

Walter Wijas, Ryne Combs and Chandler Shepherd (4-0) combined for two perfect innings of relief.

UK's first-inning run came on Zellers' home run to left.

Arkansas led all the way in the opener, getting a two-run homer by Tyler Spoon in the first inning.

The Wildcats plated a first-inning run on Zellers' single, but Arkansas got another two-run bomb in the third, by Brian Anderson, to make it 4-1.

UK got solo homers by Fettes in the fourth and A.J. Reed in the fifth to cut the deficit to 4-3.

Joe Serrano's sacrifice fly in the seventh accounted for Arkansas' final run.

Cats left-hander Corey Littrell (5-4) worked eight innings, giving up two homers in a game for the first time in more than two years.

"He overthrew some balls early in the outing," Henderson said. "The field was playing extremely small. ... But he just tried to do too much and I think sometimes when you're struggling offensively the guy on the mound thinks he's got to throw up zeroes and, to do that, you've got to strike everybody out. And when you do that, you lose command, the ball comes up."

Arkansas' first four batters accounted for seven of its nine hits, topped by Anderson with three. UK had seven players with one hit each.

With a seven-whiff game, Littrell moved into 10th on UK's career list with 205 strikeouts.

UK's Austin Cousino was hit by a pitch twice in the nightcap, raising his total to an SEC-leaading 18.

Until the final inning, Arkansas relief pitchers inherited 10 runners in the series without yielding a run.

Next Game

Wright State at Kentucky

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday