Game 1: Kentucky 8, Kansas 6
As on Saturday, Kentucky was the visiting team. Unlike on Saturday, they did not waste any time to put some runs on the board. Austin Cousino led off the game with a walk and Max Kuhn singled to put runners at the corners. A.J. Reed lifted a fly ball to left to score Cousino. After Ka'ia Tom fly out to center, Micheal Thomas continued his postseason reign of terror by lining a double to left field to move Kuhn to third. Max then scored on a wild pitch to give the Cats a 2-0 lead and end the scoring for the frame.
The Cats struck again in the second. JaVon Shelby reached on a short fly ball to right field that was misplayed by Connor McKay for an error. Cousino pushed him to third with a single and Robert Kahana brought him in with another wild pitch for a 3-0 UK lead. Cousino demonstrated some terrific baserunning, going first to third on the wild pitch but was stranded when Reed grounded out to end the inning.
Kentucky really broke the game open in the 4th, scoring 4 runs on 4 hits, a hit-by-pitch, and another A.J. Reed sac fly. The rally included back-to-back bunt singles down the third base line by Shelby and Cousino which were just a lot of fun to watch. Kentucky added another run in the 6th to finished their scoring for the day at 8-0.
As the Kentucky hitters were torching Jayhawk pitching, Zack Brown was twirling a gem. Don't be deceived by his final line of 4 runs in 5 innings - Zack was brilliant today and he gave Kentucky exactly the start they needed. He was efficient through the first 5 innings, shutting out the Jayhawks with little trouble and even making a terrific catch in the first inning on a ball up the middle that required him to jump backward off the mound as he caught it.
However, by the end of the 5th it was clear he was reaching his limit and I assumed that his day was over after he worked out of a 2-on, 2-out jam to finish the inning. That proved not to be the case as Gary Henderson decided to send Brown back out in the 6th inning with an 8-0 lead. I'm sure Gary will have to answer some questions about that decision and I'll be curious as to his reasoning behind it, because watching on tv it sure looked to me like Zack didn't have anything left.
Still, with another game to play today and another potential game on Monday, I can understand the desire to squeeze out one more inning from Brown and then let someone from the pen finish the last 3 innings. That's not how it worked out however, as Zack allowed 4 straight hits to score a run and leave the bases loaded and no one out. Taylor Martin came in and allowed all 3 inherited runners to score which pegged Brown with 4 runs that he didn't deserve. By the time the inning was over, Kansas had closed the gap 8-5.
The Jayhawks added a run in the 8th off a solo homerun by Ka'iana Eldridge but Spencer Jack finished them off in the 9th for his 4th save. The win sent Kentucky into the regional finals against host Louisville in an eagerly anticipated match.
Game 2: Louisville 4, Kentucky 1
The regional final between Louisville and Kentucky was originally scheduled for a 4:15 first pitch. Four hours later that pitch was finally thrown by Logan Salow.
The game was worth the wait as Salow and Josh Rogers engaged in a pitchers' dual and after 6 innings the Cardinals held a 1-0 lead. Rogers kept the Cats off balance in his 6 innings, striking out 5 and not walking anyone. Salow got in trouble on a few occasions but managed to wiggle out of it, only allowing the single run when Louisville loaded the bases with 1 out in the third.
After that things got testy. Louisville pushed across 3 more runs in the top of the 7th which included a play at the plate that involved Alex Chittenden barreling into Thomas Bernal. Bernal and Micheal Thomas took exception to the excessive contact and both bullpens and dugouts cleared. Order was restored and to Chittenden's credit he immediately went over to Bernal to help him up after the play. In the bottom half of the frame, Kentucky was threatening with Bernal on third, 1 out, and the Wildcats having scored a run to cut the lead 4-1. Unfortunately, Bernal made a poor decision to tag up on a soft line drive to center field and ran into Cardinal catcher Kyle Gibson while trying to score. Gibson held onto the ball to complete the double play and the collision emptied both dugouts again. Bernal was ejected under the NCAA Collision rule for contact above the waist which was deemed to be flagrant. An all-around unfortunate play that cost the Cats a chance to score another run as well as their starting first baseman.
The 8th inning passed without incident and Closer Nick Bundi - he of the 0.56 ERA and 100 MPH fastball - came on in the ninth to finish the game. After a leadoff walk he retired the next three batters to end the Wildcats' season.
Congratulations to the Cardinals - they've had a great year and with Florida State eliminated they will have the opportunity to host another Super Regional and make a repeat trip to Omaha. They will play a best of three next weekend against whomever wins the Alabama - Kennesaw State game on Monday.
For Kentucky this was a disappointing end to the season, but much like the case for the softball team, the disappointment lies in an opportunity missed rather than for the season itself. There are still several honors to be handed out, including the prestigious Golden Spikes award and the MLB Draft is this week. Juniors A.J. Reed, Austin Cousino, and Chandler Shepherd will all be drafted high enough to start their pro careers, but we will also find out which members of the current recruiting class have decisions to make about their future.
Thanks to everyone who came and hung out in the game threads and who supported the team this year!