WILMINGTON, N.C. – Cameron Walter laced a single up the middle with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, scoring two runs to give the VMI Keydets a 10-9, walk-off victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, 10-9, in non-conference baseball action Sunday at Brooks Field in Wilmington, N.C. The game was VMI’s (1-2) final game at the Hughes Bros. Challenge, hosted by UNC Wilmington.
After UK (2-1) had averted a VMI rally with two runs in the ninth to take a 9-8 lead, Red Dowdell reached on an error with one out in the VMI half. Will Malbon pinch-ran and Brandon Angus beat out an infield single. Will Connerley then hit a slow roller to third base that was booted by third baseman Max Kuhn for the second Wildcat error of the inning, loading the bases. Walter then fell behind 0-2 before taking a ball. The redshirt junior then laced a 1-2 fastball up the middle, scoring Malbon and Angus to set off the celebration. Walter now has VMI’s last two walk-off hits.
Travis Thomas (1-0) picked up the win in relief in his first outing since April of 2012, doing so despite surrendering two runs in the ninth inning, while Zach Strecker (0-1) retired just one batter for UK in the bottom half in taking the loss. The victory was VMI baseball’s first over an SEC school since beating Auburn on March 13, 2007.
Kentucky had won 89 straight games when leading going to the bottom of the ninth inning.
Kentucky jumped ahead early, coming off wins over #1 Virginia and UNC Wilmington earlier in the weekend. The Wildcats scored twice in the first, doing so on a RBI fielder’s choice groundout and an Andrew Woods throwing error to take a 2-0 lead. UK then added in the second, when Marcus Carson led off with a double. JaVon Shelby followed with a single, scoring Carson, and two outs later, Austin Cousino launched a solo home run to right center field, making it a 4-0 contest. The Wildcats would load the bases with two outs in the inning, but Woods struck out Matt Reida to end the inning in what would prove to be a pivotal moment.
The Keydets got on the board in the bottom of the second when David Geary led off with a walk. Eric Mayers followed with a single to left, and after a bunt moved the runners up, Geary scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-1, UK. Gary LeClair then drove in a run with a groundout, and with two outs, Jordan Tarsovich singled to left field. The second baseman then promptly stole second, went to third when the throw hit him and caromed into left-center field and scored when the play back into the infield got away from the Kentucky defense.
That made it a 4-3 game, but UK got one back in the third to go ahead 5-3. The Wildcats then added two more in the fourth, helped by two errors in the inning, and held a four-run lead once again at 7-3. The Keydet bullpen settled down from there, as VMI relievers Taylor Edens, Jonathan Kelley and Thomas retired 16 hitters in a row, and the offense rallied late.
Tarsovich led off the fifth against reliever Andrew Nelson by being hit by a pitch. He then stole his second base of the game and scored when freshman Tanner Dofflemyer had a bad-hop infield single to first base, making it 7-4. Angus had a two-out double in the inning, but was left stranded and that would be the last runner for either side until the VMI eighth.
The Keydets led off that frame with a four-pitch walk to Dowdell, and one out later, Will Connerley laced a single to left. Geary followed with a RBI single through the shortstop hole, cutting the deficit to two, and UK went to its bullpen for left-hander Matt Snyder to face Mayers. Mayers launched a 2-1, inside fastball over the left field wall for a three-run home run, his first career long ball, to give VMI a 8-7 lead and cap a thrilling, four-run frame.
UK would not go quietly, however, as after Thomas retired the first two Wildcats in the ninth, the redshirt senior was a strike away from ending the game against Kentucky shortstop Reida. He drew a walk, however, and pinch-hitter Ka’ai Tom was hit by a pitch. Another pinch-hitter, Michael Thomas, then drove a RBI single to left to tie the game, 8-8. A wild pitch then scored Tom, gave UK the lead and moved Thomas to third in the process, but Thomas recovered to strike out Shelby and end the inning, setting up the dramatic comeback in the ninth.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "We started off down, but just kept fighting! Taylor Edens did an amazing job shifting the momentum in our favor, Jordan Tarsovich created offense in the middle innings and then Eric Mayers gave us the big spark we needed! I was also very proud of Travis Thomas getting back out there, in a very difficult spot, after almost two years off. Our guys did a great job in the ninth getting on base, and Cameron Walter put a great swing on a fastball for the game-winning hit. We showed real toughness as a team today."
Neither starter figured in the decision, with Kyle Cody lasting just 3 1/3 innings and allowing three runs, while Woods allowed five runs, four earned, in three frames in his first collegiate start.
Offensively, Cousino and Reed had two hits apiece for UK, while Mayers went 3 for 4 with a career-high three RBI for the Keydets.
VMI baseball is scheduled to return to action Wednesday, taking on Richmond at Pitt Field in Richmond.