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Kentucky knocked out of SEC Tournament by South Carolina

IMG_8756by:Daniel Hager05/24/24


No. 3 seed Kentucky fell to No. 10 seed South Carolina 6-5 Friday afternoon, ending its stay in Hoover.

Kentucky’s pitching trio of Mason Moore, Cameron O’Brien, and Ben Cleaver totaled eight walks and two hit batters in the loss, handing Carolina two free runs via bases loaded walks.

With the loss, Kentucky is eliminated from the SEC Tournament and will head back to Lexington as it awaits its NCAA Tournament fate. The Cats are still projected to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament in D1Baseball’s latest Field of 64 Projections.

With a win, Kentucky would have advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament for just the fifth time in program history (2022, 2014, 2012, 1996) and the third time in the modern 12-team format, which began in 2013.

South Carolina will now get a rematch with No. 11 seed LSU on Saturday, where the winner will head to the SEC Championship game.

Small ball propels Cats to early lead

Hoover got an early dose of Kentucky Baseball at its finest on Friday, as the Cats rode small ball to an early lead.

After a scoreless first inning, Nick Lopez opened the top of the second with a hard-hit grounder to South Carolina second baseman Parker Noland. Noland was unable to field it cleanly, allowing Lopez to reach first to open the frame.

Mitch Daly and Ryan Nicholson then followed Lopez with back-to-back bunts. Daly reached safely as catcher Dalton Reeves was unable to field it cleanly, but Nicholson was thrown out. The Cats however put runners on second and third with just one out.

Nolan McCarthy, who made national headlines for his home-run saving grab in Thursday’s win over Arkansas, then continued to deliver for Kentucky. McCarthy hit a chopping groundball that bounced right over the head of Carolina first baseman Ethan Petry, allowing Lopez and Daly to score.

Kentucky’s 2-0 lead didn’t last long however, as Carolina’s Gavin Casas belted a 429-foot three-run home run to give the Gamecocks a 3-2 lead in the latter half inning.

Kentucky regains lead in fourth

South Carolina threatened to extend its lead in the third as it loaded the bases with just one out, but Pitre and Smith turned an inning-ending double play to get out of the jam.

The Cats came out in the top of the fourth and scored two more runs, regaining a 4-3 lead.

After Mitch Daly led off the inning with a single, Ryan Nicholson grounded into a near double play. After review however, it was determined that Carolina shortstop Will Tippett completely missed second base on the turn. Daly was ruled safe as was Nicholson, who beat out the throw.

Grant Smith then drew a four-pitch walk, bringing up Ryan Waldschmidt with the bases loaded. Waldschmidt hit a heater of a groundball to Casas at third base, who booted the ball. All runners were safe, including Daly, who crossed the plate to tie the game at three.

Émilien Pitre then drew a bases loaded walk, giving the Cats a 4-3 lead.

Wildcat pitching hands Carolina lead in fifth

Kentucky’s biggest question over the final month of the regular season has been the lack of consistency with its pitching staff. This reared its ugly head in the bottom of the fifth inning on Friday.

After giving up a solo home run to Carolina’s Will Tippett to open the bottom of the fifth, Kentucky starting right-hander walked Blake Jackson, intentionally walked Cole Messina, and plunked Parker Noland to load the bases. Moore then hit Kennedy Jones with a pitch on the first pitch of his at-bat, allowing a free run to trot home.

As Carolina took a 5-4 lead, Moore’s day came to an end. He lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and six earned runs while striking out three batters.

Right-hander Cam O’Brien relieved Moore and walked another batter home, giving the Gamecocks a 6-4 lead through five innings.

Kentucky heading home from Hoover

After surrendering its lead in the fifth inning, Kentucky didn’t notch a hit until the eighth inning.

Nick Lopez led off the inning with a single through the right side, hoping to spark a Wildcat rally. After a Mitch Daly strikeout, Ryan Nicholson delivered big with an RBI-double down the first base line. Lopez’s score made it a one-run game with just one out in the inning.

Nolan McCarthy had a chance to come through big again for the Cats, but he suffered some true “buzzards luck.” McCarthy hit a line drive to Carolina first baseman Ethan Petry, who caught it and doubled Nicholson up at second to end the inning.

Pat Herrera, Grant Smith, and Ryan Waldschmidt came up to bat in the ninth, but the trio went down in order to end Kentucky’s comeback attempt.

What’s next for No. 2 Kentucky?

Kentucky will rest up for a week before the Lexington Regional gets underway on May 31.

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