Photo by Clinton Riddle
Kentucky Baseball

Rhodes Walks It Off, UK Defeats Murray State, 9-8

March 4, 2020
217

It was a day for hitters as Murray State faced Kentucky at Kentucky Proud Park. It's only fitting that the game would come down to the final batter.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, LF John Rhodes hit a 2-1 fastball just over the left-field fence to give the Wildcats a 9-8 win.

The two teams combined for seventeen runs (sixteen earned) on twenty-five hits. UK (7-6) had eight players with at least one hit and at least five with one or more RBI. Neither starting pitcher made it past the fourth inning, with RHP Cole Stupp pitching only 3 1/3 innings, giving up six runs on six hits, walking two and striking out three.

Murray State (7-6) started off the scoring with a four-run first inning. Ryan Perkins drove a two-run homer to right-center to put the Racers on the board. After a base hit from Bryson Bloomer, Brock Anderson scored him on a triple down the right-field line. Skylar McPhee picked up an RBI on his ground-out to third, before Trey Woosley flied out to second to end the threat.

Jaren Shelby grounded out to short to start the bottom half of the first. A brief but concerning moment came when the trainer came out to take a look at Shelby after he fouled off the second pitch he saw. He seemed to be OK and remained in the game. Austin Schultz cracked a double down the left-field line, then scored on a single to center from TJ Collett. Oraj Anu struck out swinging on what appeared to be a busted hit-and-run, with Collett caught stealing at second by a wide margin.

Stupp worked a 1-2-3 top of the second, and UK further chipped away at Murray State's lead when Rhodes hammered a lead-off double into left field to get things rolling. Three consecutive walks to Golda, Lewis, and Estep forced in the second run of the day for the Wildcats. That would bring a quick end to Joe Ivey's day, with righty Justin Thomas taking over.

A sacrifice fly to center scored Golda, but a great throw from Slunder, who was shaded just slightly toward the right-center field gap, nabbed Lewis at third, who immediately signaled for a play review. The call was upheld. A pop-up to second from Shelby ended the inning.

After Perkins struck out on a breaking ball in the dirt, thrown out by Holen, Bloomer drew the walk. Anderson moved him to third on a single through the right side of the infield. McPhee narrowly missed what may have been a two-run double when he hit a screamer that fell an imperceptible distance outside of the line, then struck out on a curve in the dirt. Anderson was off with the pitch, but there was some confusion as to who was taking the throw as both Golda and Lewis arrived at the bag at nearly the exact spot. Golda caught the throw and gunned it to home plate to catch Bloomer, who was attempting to score, completing a rare 2-6-2 double play.

In the bottom half of the third, Schultz hits a daisy-cutter between short and third, who both dove for the grounder but came up short. With Schultz taking off for second and the Racers' second baseman covering the bag, Collett drove a grounder through the vacated spot and moved Schultz to third. Anu grounded to the pitcher, forcing Collett at second. Rhodes brought Schultz home with a single to center, and Golda cleared the bags with a two-run double that bounced off the wall in front of the left-field berm and into shallow left field. After Lewis struck out looking, Estep brought Golda home on another single to center field. Holen grounded out to third to strand Estep.

Kentucky needed three pitchers to get through the top of the fourth, with Stupp beginning the inning by walking Woosley on a 3-2 inside fastball. He followed by giving up a single to Alex Crump, who was focused only on putting the ball into left field, a nice piece of place-hitting by the Murray State catcher. David Hudleson moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt to Stupp. After RHP Will Gambino took over on the mound, he surrendered a run on the sacrifice fly to left by Jordan Holly, then an RBI double to Slunder. After walking Perkins and hitting Bloomer on the first pitch of the at-bat, followed by a meeting with Holen and a visit from coach Dan Roszel (buying time for the 'pen), Gambino would leave the game for lefty Cole Daniels.

Choosing an odd time to do so, Slunder took off on a 2-2 count in an attempt to steal home. Daniels kept his cool, made his pitch, and Slunder was out by at least six feet to end the inning.

After Braydon Cook entered the game for the Racers and worked a 1-2-3 inning, Daniels returned the favor by striking out Anderson and McPhee, then retiring Woosley on a fly to left. Anu reached first on an E-6, then advanced on a wild pitch that skipped away from the catcher. Rhodes grounded out to third, with Anu advancing just after the throw to first. Golda brought him home on a sac fly to center. Lewis reached on a grounder into center, but Estep left him on base after flying out to end the threat.

Neither team scored in the sixth, seventh, or eighth. With Hunter Rigsby on the mound for his second inning of work in the ninth, Holly drew a lead-off walk. Perkins popped a shallow single just over Golda's head. Bloomer and Anderson tallied back-to-back RBI singles to right field to tie the game. With Zack Lee taking over for Rigsby, Woosley grounded out to second to end the top half of the inning.

After Collett and Anu both went down on swinging strikes, Rhodes worked the count to 2-1 before sending a fastball on a sky-high trajectory to left that just cleared the fence, winning it for the Wildcats. It was the first homer of the freshman's career.

UK relievers Will Gambino, Cole Daniels, Carson Coleman, Hunter Rigsby, and Zack Lee combined to allow only two runs on six hits, walking only two and striking out seven.

The Wildcats are off on Thursday, then start a three-game series vs. Bradley University on Friday at 4 PM.

 

Game Notes:

-Stupp sat 88-90 with his fastball and dealt an 11-5 slurvy breaking ball at 79-82. He shows good arm speed with his fastball but did seem at times to slow his arm on breaking pitches.

-Carson Coleman showed easy velocity and deceptive arm speed on a fastball that ranged from 93-95. It appears that he will turn it over and/or cut it, from time to time, at least during this appearance. He's struck out at least two in each appearance he's made so far, in 2020. Now a junior, this could be a big season for Coleman.

-Kentucky also walked off vs. Appalachian State on February 23rd, though that one took fifteen innings.

-Freshman righty Zack Lee was the 12th-ranked pitcher in Illinois in 2019 by Perfect Game and fifth among righties. At 6'4”, 200, Lee has added twenty pounds since his last PG event. He sits at 92-93 with little effort and projects to gain perhaps 2-3 more MPH while at UK. He bears close watching.

-Rigsby works with three solid pitches (91-93 fastball, curve at 77-78, slider at 84-85), and located his breaking pitches with some regularity. He has reportedly gained six MPH on his fastball over the past three years (again, according to PG). As a sophomore, Rigsby's best games could well be ahead of him. Refining his command, in addition to adding even 2-3 MPH of velocity, could significantly boost his draft prospects. Rigsby has only 20 1/3 innings under his belt with UK, and his progress should be a lot of fun to watch.

 

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Rhodes Walks It Off, UK Defeats Murray State, 9-8

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