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By Nick Gray | @KyKernelGray
Fans, writers and school officials talked about the game in reverential, near-mythical lengths.
Every joke about “Survive Gary” was an inside joke for those who were in Gary, Indiana last June for the 21-inning fight for survival between Kent State and UK baseball.
Tuesday’s 18-inning game at Western Kentucky for the Cats was neither quite as long, nor as important to the season as last year’s marathon, but it did give those who were in attendance a chance to understand what the atmosphere was like almost 11 months ago.
Consider the ride.
The game began with the best catch of the night, a diving effort by Western Kentucky centerfielder Trevor Lowe in the first inning at about 6:06 p.m. local time.
Two innings later, the first threat by either team produced a run for the Hilltoppers on a triple and a double. Those extra-base hits would be the last for Western Kentucky on Tuesday.
Hold that thought.
UK freshman right-handed pitcher Kyle Cody pitched six innings of four-hit baseball and the one run. His start would be the beginning of a series of freshman pitchers who kept the Cats in the game.
Sophomore centerfield Austin Cousino put UK on the board with a solo home run in the sixth inning, a home run that tied the game at one. No one at the time realized exactly what that moment meant.
Extra innings came about at around 9 p.m. local time.
By the time junior closer Trevor Gott inherited two runners with one out in the 10th inning, more than half the crowd had made its way to the exits. They missed one of the gutsiest performances out of the bullpen in the recent memory of UK baseball.
Gott finished the 10th inning without giving up a run, and did the same in the 11th and 12th innings, using up more than 50 pitches.
Meanwhile, UK’s offense had continued to sputter, but a break via an error by Western Kentucky plus a double by sophomore first baseman A.J. Reed gave the Cats a 2-1 lead in the top of the 13th inning at 10:10 p.m. local time.
Gott came out for the 13th inning with depleted velocity and bad luck forced him out of the game. With two men on, Western Kentucky outfielder Jordan Cessna could have won the game with a single or ended the game with an out against UK freshman pitcher Ryne Combs.
Cessna grounded a ball right to UK junior shortstop Matt Reida at 10:25 p.m. local time. Reida’s throw missed Reed by at least five feet.
And they played on.
Combs allowed two runners to start the 14th, and freshman pitcher Zack Strecker inherited them, loaded the bases and mowed down the Hilltoppers with two strikeouts and a groundout.
Strecker would pitch four good innings, neutralizing the WKU lineup and pushing the game into the 18th inning.
Finally, as sudden as anything in a game that lasted just under six hours, at 12:02 a.m. local time, WKU’s Lowe, the person who began the game with a diving catch, ended the longest game in college baseball in 2013 with a line drive off Strecker that landed just past the left field wall and into the night.
At 12:15 a.m. local time Wednesday morning, a dejected UK head coach Gary Henderson said he told his team, “Sleep on the bus. It’s going to be a short night.”
A short night for those who were watching, it was not.