It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. That was clearly the mentality of the Kentucky Wildcats baseball team for much of Thursday night.
Needing to rack some wins in their final regular-season series in order to secure a spot in the SEC Tournament the Wildcats hosted the No. 2 Vanderbilt Commodores Thursday night to begin a three-game series.
It’s safe to say early on the Commodores showed why they’re the No. 2 team in the nation.
Vanderbilt rallied for five runs in the top of the first, two in the second and two in the third to take a 9-0 lead. Seven of Vanderbilt’s runs came off of Kentucky starter Trip Lockhart, who was making his first career start.
The game seemed like it was going to be another laugher for a young Kentucky team that has struggled all season long, but the cardiac Cats would not go quietly on this night.
Kentucky began to chip away in the bottom of the fourth when Jaren Shelby hit a one-run double, and Zeke Lewis drove in a run on a sacrifice fly to cut the Vanderbilt lead to 9-2.
Two innings later, the Cats crawled even closer. Colyton Kessler slugged a solo home run, and Alex Rodriguez hit a ball that got lost in the lights resulting in a two-run double making it a 9-5 ball-game.
With Grant Macciocchi cruising in relief throwing 5.1 innings, the Cats took control in the bottom of the seventh.
Shelby delivered another RBI with a sac fly, and Rodriguez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded cutting the Vanderbilt lead to 9-7.
With the bases still loaded, Ryan Johnson came to the plate and delivered in a big way. Johnson hit a bloop single allowing two runs to score and then was able to distract the Vanderbilt defense by getting caught in a rundown between first and second base allowing Rodriguez to score to put Kentucky on top 10-9.
However, as much of the season has gone, there would be no perfect ending on this night for the Bat Cats.
Vanderbilt put runners on the corners in the top of the eighth when rain poured down in Lexington, causing a rain delay that would last over two hours. When play resumed, Daniel Harper was able to get Ethan Paul to fly out to third base, but with two outs, the Commodores jumped back in front, as clean-up hitter Philip Clarke smacked a triple to center and put Vanderbilt up 11-10.
In the ninth, Vanderbilt extended their lead as Harrison Ray hit a run-scoring double down the right-field line, Ty Duvall and Austin Martin hit RBI singles, and an error allowed two more runs to score as Vandy took a 16-10 lead.
This time, Kentucky would not be able to come back, as Vanderbilt took Game 1 of the series.
Despite the loss, there was good news regarding Kentucky’s SEC tournament hopes. Alabama and South Carolina both lost; thus, the Cats remain in a three-game tie for the final spot in the tournament with two games left to play in the regular season.
Kentucky and Vanderbilt will do battle again Friday night with first pitch set for 6:30 p.m. on SEC+.