Walking off in record fashion

Wiley’s extra inning homer lifts Cats over Cards

By Matthew George

Never have more people gathered on UK’s campus to watch an NCAA baseball game. A record 4,009 people crammed into Cliff Hagan Stadium for last night’s game between UK and of Louisville — more than the packed house during the 2006 NCAA Regional (3,529), when the school added extra seating down the first and third base lines.

Fans stood throughout the stadium and along the third base wall. They parked as far out as Commonwealth Stadium. And they packed the porch in right-center field, allowing for shoulder-to-shoulder standing only. The only empty seats belonged to season ticket holders, many of whom failed to make it out to the game of the year so far.

Some felt the aggravation of the crowd. All felt the excitement of the game’s finish.

In a battle of late-inning heroics, the Cats had the last laugh. The unlikeliest of long-ball threats, sophomore left fielder Keenan Wiley, delivered a 12th inning walk-off win with his first career home run.

The solo blast — a towering shot that cleared the old scoreboard in right field — lifted No. 9 UK (26-5, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) to a 7-6 win over archrival Louisville (16-13, 4-5 Big East).

“That felt good,” Wiley said about being the night’s hero. “It felt real good.”

Wiley knew the ball was gone the second the 1-0 pitch left his bat. As he raced around the bases, he had only one thought running through his mind.

“Touch first,” Wiley said. “Just don’t miss first.”

Wiley, who finished 4-for-6 with two RBIs, was greeted by a mob of teammates at home plate and a thunderous ovation from the fans, many of whom stuck around through the late innings.

“I love it,” Wiley said of the record crowd. “I wish everybody would come out every game. It’s a lot more fun playing in front of that many people, and there’s a lot more energy in the ballpark.”

The homer put an end to what was a back-and-forth affair.

Cardinal third baseman Chris Dominguez blasted a three-run home run against senior reliever Aaron Lovett in the eighth, punctuating a comeback that put U of L ahead 6-4.

The Cats had been clinging to a 4-3 lead. One would have thought the homer had been deflating enough to put the game out of reach. But UK rallied for two of its own in the bottom half to tie the game and eventually send it to extra innings.

Both bullpens held through the extra frames to set the stage for Wiley’s dramatic 12th-inning homer.

“You’re not expecting Keenan Wiley to hit a home run, but you are expecting him to compete his ass off,” UK head coach John Cohen said. “And when kids are competing hard, good things are going to happen.”

Cohen said he and his kids were especially happy to win the game to reward the fans who turned out in such great numbers.

“I think our kids get excited about playing in front of that many people,” Cohen said, “because that right there is a Southeastern Conference atmosphere everywhere we go.”