Oy. Pitching and defense have been issues for Kentucky all season long and today those problems manifested in spades. Congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks - they refused to let the constant weather delays disrupt them and they were perfectly content to allow the Wildcat pitching staff to beat itself. There's probably a Sun Tzu quote about that somewhere. "When your opponent does not throw strikes, do not aid them by swinging." Something like that.
For Kentucky, the game could not have gone worse. Not only was Kyle Cody completely unable to get out of the first inning, but Gary Henderson was forced to use Andrew Nelson and Chandler Shepherd in the game, all for naught. I said in the preview and I will repeat it here: I still think the decision to start Cody was the right one. There are no certainties in sports, and that is especially true in baseball. All that a manager can do is try to give his players the best chance to win. Coach Henderson pushed a lot of right buttons in the last week and a half, it's not his fault that some of them were miswired today. Even if A.J. Reed had started today, he would have been knocked out after the first inning by the first hour-long rain delay that struck the game.
First pitch was delayed 25 minutes by a lightning strike, and when the game finally was underway, Kyle Cody could not locate the strike zone and issued a leadoff walk to Justin Protacio. Colby Wright then layed down a sacrifice, but Kyle botched the routine throw, sending the ball waaaaay over Thomas Bernal's head putting runners on 1st and 3rd with no one out. Cody was a little late getting off the mound to field the ball, and by the time he got to it he was near the baseline and did not have a good angle on the throw. Still, a quick step to his left was all that was needed and he had time to do so. Michael Suiter followed with another sacrifice back to the pitcher and this time Cody got the out, but only barely with an underhand throw that clearly indicated a lack of confidence.Protacio scored and it was 1-0 Kansas. Dakota Smith doubled, scoring Wright and Tucker Tharp singled putting runners on 1st and 3rd.
With Connor McKay at the plate, Micheal Thomas attempted to throw out Tharp on a stolen base attempt. The throw went high over the head of JaVon Shelby though, allowing Smith to score and sending Tharp to 3rd. At almost the exact same moment the skies opened up and dumped a small lake on the field. Hard to know how the rain affected Thomas, if at all, but even a good throw would not have gotten Tharp. At this point we had our first in-game delay that lasted about an hour and officially ended Cody's day. Andrew Nelson came on after the game resumed, finished off McKay by striking him out (which officially gets credited to Kyle because it was his hitter, no seriously: that's how it's scored) and struck out Ka'lana Eldredge to bring a merciful end to the frame. Two hours after the original starting time, Kentucky came out to bat in the bottom of the 1st inning down 3-0.
That Cats struck back quickly. Austin Cousino struck out, but Max Kuhn reached on an infield single and A.J. Reed had a great at-bat that led to a walk. Ka'ia Tom then showed why this lineup is so feared by taking Jordan Piche' over the right field fence to tie the game at 3. Micheal Thomas and Storm Wilson grounded out to end the inning, but the Cats were back in the game.
The second inning started promisingly enough. Nelson got a first pitch ground ball out from Blair Beck and struck out Tommy Mirabelli for the first two outs. Then Andrew suddenly could not find the strike zone, walking Protacio and Wright back-to-back. Those walks were followed by three straight hits, scoring three runs and by the time McKay grounded out to Matt Reida the Cats were down again, 6-3.
Kentucky went down quickly in the bottom of the 2nd and Kansas did the same in the top of the third, although Nelson issued yet another 2-out walk to Mirabelli. Austin Cousino hit a leadoff hustle double in the bottom of the third, then came around to score on consecutive wild pitches by Piche'. Max Kuhn followed with a walk, but A.J. Reed struck out in what might have been his worst at-bat of the season. A.J. represented the tying run, and his at-bat looked like he was intent on doing just that as he struck out swinging at a pitch that bounced in front of the plate. Ka'ia Tom could not replicate his first inning heroics, grounding into a double play to end the inning.
Nelson continued to set down Kansas hitters, working around a 2-out single in the 4th. In the bottom of the 4th the Cats struck again and for awhile it looked like they were going to knock Piche' out of the game. Thomas and Wilson hit singles to put runners on the second and third with no one out (Storm advancing to second on the throw) and Thomas Bernal brought them in with another single to tie the game at 6. Matt Reida flew out and Javon Shelby fouled out, but with Cousino batting the Jayhawks pretty much ignored Bernal who stole second after a pitch was made in a smart bit of baserunning. Unfortunately, that smart running was followed by a TOOTBLAN (Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop) when Cousino hit an infield single and Bernal was caught in a rundown after making too wide a turn at third.
Nelson finally worked a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the 5th, but the second in-game delay struck as hail followed by more rain pushed the teams off the field again. At this point I can only tell you what happened based on the play-by-play account as I was headed out for an evening with family. (We went to see the new X-Men movie which is fifteen kinds of awesome: I highly recommend it for geeks everywhere) This delay lasted about 2 hours and knocked Nelson and Piche' out of the game. The teams traded zeros for a few innings, although Kentucky got Storm Wilson to third with 1 out in the sixth, only to see him thrown out at home on a pop-out by Matt Reida.
Kansas scored 2 runs in the 7th and two more in the 8th while the Cats couldn't manage to do much of anything except for an A.J. Reed walk in the 8th and a Matt Reida double in the 9th.
This is a tough game to lose, but it happens. National seeds Florida State and UL-Lafayette lost today, as did #2 seeds Nebraska, Indiana St, Alabama, UNLV, Dallas Baptist, and Arizona State. The good news is that Kentucky still has A.J. Reed for tomorrow's game (which looks like it will be Kent State) and Kyle Cody should be able to come back on Sunday after throwing just 30 pitches today. The road ahead is tough though, and the Cats will now have to win 4 games if they want to advance to a Super Regional.
Game 2 is tomorrow at 1:00 PM. We'll have a game thread, so join us to root on the Cats as they will try to stave off elimination.