Four batters into Tuesday’s showdown between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, the outcome looked almost decided: the Cards were about to roll to a blowout victory.
Three of the first four batters had reached to load the bases with one out for preseason All-American senior third baseman Phil Wunderlich. With UK starting a freshman right-handed pitcher in Jordan Cooper, you would have to forgive the home crowd if they thought “here we go again.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the UofL blowout, Cooper induced an inning-ending double play from Wunderlich. Then he came back for the second inning and the third and posted two more zeros on the line score. Six innings later the Cats had a 5-0 shutout win over the No. 9 Cards.
“For a freshman pitcher to be able to throw a change up after four or five pitches to Wunderlich was huge,” UK coach Gary Henderson said. “Jordan did it…it was a huge play in the ball game, no question.”
As the UK offense mounted a mid-game rally, left-handed reliever Mike Kaczmarek came out of the pen for four innings of one-hit ball. The one hit was an eighth inning double that bounced off the warning track after UK right fielder Cory Farris tripped while pursuing the fly ball. That was one of only two times after the first inning a UofL batter reached second base.
“When you have an opportunity to score like that [in the first inning], and you don’t score the momentum swings,” UofL coach Dan McDonnell said. “Obviously Kentucky was available to avoid what could have been a big inning.”
The Cats offense did its job with one run in the fourth inning, three in the fifth and one more in the sixth. The big blow came on senior first baseman Gunner Glad‘s two-run home run in the fifth. The blast marked his fifth long ball in the last six games.
“I struggled early, mostly with recognizing pitches but I’ve been working hard in the cages trying to get my confidence back,” Glad said.
“He’s [Glad] hot, he’s seeing it well, he’s swinging at strikes, he’s taking a lot more borderline pitches than he was earlier,” Henderson said. “He’s not perfect up there, but he’s really aggressive, and we’d like him to stay hot.”
The stellar UK pitching performance was backed up by some highlight-worthy defensive play, including two ranging plays from junior shortstop Taylor Black and a diving catch from senior center fielder Keenan Wiley.
“The plays by Taylor we’re pretty spectacular, those were ESPN plays right there,” Henderson said. “They were awesome.”
“Taylor Black was amazing at shortstop,” Kaczmarek added. “I’d put him up there with any of the shortstops in the country, when he’s on his game he’s the best.”
After Sunday’s heartbreaking loss on a two-out, ninth inning grand slam at Arkansas, UK could have been expected to come out flat against the ninth-ranked Cards. But after putting together their best performance of the season the Cats look ready to turn around their season.
“We’ve responded well all year when we’ve had something that didn’t really go our way,” Henderson said. “The kids have done a really good job of that of bouncing back the next day.”
“It was a tough loss, but I think we built off it more than anything,” Glad said of the Arkansas game. “We proved ourselves we can battle.”