UK sweeps reigning champs, remains undefeated


Infielder Thomas McCarthy high-fives teammates after scoring during the final game of the UK vs. South Carolina series in Lexington, Ky., on 3/18/12. Photo by Brandon Goodwin

By David Schuh

The UK baseball team swept the No. 2-ranked, two-time defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks this weekend at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

The sweep pushed the Cats’ record to 21-0, the only remaining undefeated record in the country. They will surely improve from their previous No. 16 ranking when the new poll is released Monday afternoon.

“This is the biggest weekend we’ve had since I’ve been head coach,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said Sunday. “We can play with some poise and our group is not scared. They really enjoy competing  — that was pretty evident to everybody here today.”

The Cats took the field Friday in their first SEC game trying to prove they deserved their perfect record.

South Carolina controlled the majority of the game, scoring in the third, fourth and seventh innings to lead 3-0.

But UK’s offense woke up in the bottom of the seventh. With bases loaded and two outs, junior Luke Maile walked to score sophomore Matt Reida. Freshman A.J. Reed then singled in fellow freshman Austin Cousino to cut the score to 3-2.

The Gamecock lead remained at one entering the bottom of the ninth. Cousino reached on a hit by pitch to lead off the inning.

Two batters later, Maile stepped in just looking to tie it up. He did one better, sending the third pitch over the center-field fence for the walk-off win.

It was Maile’s fourth home run of the season, and the play was No. 4 on SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays” Saturday morning.

“I went up there with a plan,” Maile said. “I knew I would see a bunch of breaking balls so I tried to stay within myself and put a good swing on it. It worked out.”

Saturday’s game was just as closely contested. This time, however, UK got off to the quick start.

After Cousino and Zellers both reached to lead off the first, Maile picked up right where he left off, singling to left field to put the Cats up. Junior Cameron Flynn plated Zellers two batters later on a sacrifice fly to make the score 2-0.

The Gamecocks fought back in the sixth. Back-to-back doubles to lead off the inning were followed by a sacrifice fly that tied the game at two.

But the Cats went ahead again in the bottom half. With a man on second and two outs, senior Michael Williams singled up the middle to score fellow senior Thomas McCarthy. UK led 3-2.

An empty eighth set the scene for South Carolina to try to tie it in the top of the ninth. A leadoff double put the Gamecocks in great position, as sophomore Trevor Gott entered for UK to try to stem the tide.

He did just that. After a sacrifice bunt to get the runner to third, Gott struck out the final two batters, preserving the win and clinching the series victory in the process.

Sunday’s near capacity crowd of 2,571 was a record high for the season. And UK again fed off the home fans to get out of the gates quick.

As is becoming a trend, Maile was the one to make a big play for the offense. With a runner on and one out in the first, the junior catcher launched a hanging slider over the left-field fence to give the Cats a 2-0 lead.

South Carolina got one in the second and two in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead. The Cats tied it up in the bottom of the fifth after an RBI single by Zellers scored Cousino.

UK was at it again in the sixth. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out. Williams then singled to right to score two. A wild pitch on the ensuing batter added another, giving the Cats a 6-3 lead.

The UK bullpen took it from there, shutting down the Gamecock offense to secure the three-run victory.

“That was a collective series win,” Maile said. “Our bullpen did an outstanding job, we played great defense, got quality starts from the starters and we got base hits when we needed them.”

The bullpen was unhittable in the series. They tallied 10.1 innings pitched without allowing a run, striking out 12.

The Cats will travel to the University of Cincinnati Wednesday night to take on the Bearcats at 4 p.m.