The outcome of the latest, much-anticipated installment of the Kentucky-Louisville baseball rivalry seemed like a foregone conclusion midway through the night Wednesday.
In a matchup of two top-10 teams, the Cardinals looked like the clear winners after four and a half innings. They did indeed pull out the victory, but UK made things interesting down the stretch.
Louisville’s early seven-run lead held up for a 9-6 win over the Wildcats in front of a nearly packed Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Cats found themselves in a 7-0 hole by the top of the fifth inning. There were miscues in the field, problems on the mound and nearly nothing was going right at the plate over the first half of the game.
By the bottom of the eighth — after senior Dorian Hairston’s pinch-hit, two-run home run to right-center field — Kentucky trailed by just one run and had all the momentum.
The No. 6-ranked Cards woke up just in time with two more runs in the top of the ninth inning to set the final score.
U of L third baseman Brendan McKay’s two-out double in the top of the first inning scored Devin Mann from first base and gave the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead before the ninth-ranked Cats ever got to the plate.
The Cards scored six more before UK got on the board.
Three of those runs came in a strange third inning plagued by Wildcats’ mistakes.
UK starter Zach Logue hit U of L designated hitter Colby Fitch with a pitch to open the inning and, after a strikeout, the next two Cardinals batters reached base on back-to-back fielding errors by UK middle infielders Luke Becker and Riley Mahan.
Logue, who would have already been out of the inning if not for the errors, managed another strikeout before hitting another batter, U of L catcher Will Smith, with the bases loaded to put the Cards up 2-0.
Freshman left fielder Drew Ellis — the Cards’ No. 8 batter who was making just his fifth start of the season — delivered a bloop single over Mahan to score two more and give Louisville a 4-0 lead.
Ellis, who had just six RBI coming into the game, delivered for the Cardinals again in the fifth, knocking a bases-loaded double off of UK reliever Bo Wilson over the head of center fielder Storm Wilson to score three runs and put Louisville up 7-0.
The Wildcats started their rally in the bottom half of the inning.
UK second baseman Becker doubled and scored on a throwing error to give the Cats their first run. Storm Wilson also had an RBI single in the fifth.
Zach Reks scored on a wild pitch in the sixth, and UK scored three more runs in the eighth, the last two on Hairston’s two-out blast to right- center to narrow Louisville’s lead to 7-6.
That’s as close as the Cats would get.
Colin Lyman hit a shot off the glove of UK third baseman JaVon Shelby that trickled into left field for a two-run single in the top of the ninth.
Wildcats first baseman Evan White led off the bottom of the ninth with a double to the right-field wall, but U of L’s Zack Burdi struck out the next three UK batters to end it.
Louisville 9, Kentucky 6
U of L
W: McClure (7-0).L: Logue (1-1).S: Burdi (4).
Records: Louisville (26-7); Kentucky (22-10).
Kentucky: Three-game series at Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday)
Louisville: Three-game series vs. Clemson (6 p.m., 4 p.m., 1 p.m.)