Josh McLaughlin came in for the Cougars in a jam in the seventh and got them out of it without allowing any runs. Then, in the eighth and ninth, he simply overpowered the Cats, striking out four and allowing only an infield single.
The final here in Lexington is 7-4, with Charleston advancing to play Georgia Tech in the Super Regional.
For Kentucky, that's six zeroes in a row up on the scoreboard. One more, and the season's over for the Cats. You know, you have to give Charleston's bullpen its due. They've been called on to pitch over 18 innings in the three games here in Lexington and have yet to give up one run. To repeat: that's two complete games of shut out pitching from the Charleston pen. Unbelievable. And now they're three outs away from the Super Regional.
Charleston's Quinn Monsma came on in a tough situation in the third and got the Cougars out of it without allowing any runs. He went on to pitch three more scoreless innings, but he exited in the seventh, leaving two runners aboard with two outs.
Josh McLaughlin, who pitched 2.2 innings of scoreless ball in the 16 inning epic against Notre Dame on Friday, came in to replace him, hit the first batter he faced, but recovered to get Kentucky DH Sean Coughlin to pop out. Kentucky has stranded a season-high 11 runners.
Still 7-4 in favor of the Cougars as we enter the eighth.
It won't count as an RBI but it'll get a run on the scoreboard. And in postseason baseball, runs is all that counts. It went down like this: with runners at the corners, Alex Garabedian grounded into a 4-3 double play, scoring the runner at third. That extends the Charleston lead to 7-4.
After walking the first batter he faced to load the bases, Charleston reliever Quinn Monsma got the Cougs out of a tight spot by striking out Antone DeJesus and popping up Collin Cowgill. It's 6-4 Charleston as we enter the fourth.
By the way, the first three innings -- with 16 hits, 10 runs, and two pitching changes -- took 95 minutes to play.
So much for Charleston's dominant pitching. The Cougars had pitched 22 consecutive scoreless innings coming into this game, but the Wildcats have scored in both innings so far and are threatening to score again in the bottom of the third.
With the wind blowing out in that direction, Antone DeJesus pulled a ball down the right field line that just barely cleared the fence. With two men on, the homer pulled Kentucky to within 6-4 of Charleston.
The Cats have followed that homer with two singles, and All-American Ryan Strieby is at the plate with only one out.
A lot happened in the top of the first inning, little of it good for Kentucky. Aaron Tennyson struck out the first two batters he faced -- that was the good part. But things quickly went south from there.
Kentucky's going to start Aaron Tennyson, a lefty who started 14 games during the season, going 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA.
Charleston counters with a pitcher, Danny Meszaros, who on most staffs would be considered the ace. He's had a heck of a season so far, going 9-2 with an ERA of 2.88. One note of caution, though: according to the two Charleston beat writers sitting next to me, Meszaros has been nursing some tendinitis and Cougar manager John Pawlowski will be keeping a close eye on him during the game.
After I trashed my man Antone DeJesus at the beginning of the game for his hitting slump, he has provided a much-needed insurance run for the Cats in the top of the ninth. With Mike Brown, running for Billy Grace, on third, DeJesus blooped a double to left that landed right on the line. Brown scored, putting the Cats back ahead by three. They lead 12-9, and Ball State is down to its final three outs.
Since coming into the game with the bases loaded, Andrew Albers has given up a single and a walk, bringing in two to make it an 11-9 game. He just had a talk with the pitching coach. Let's see if the Cats can get out of this inning alive.
In what's become a bit of a blowout here in Lexington, Kentucky is making all the close plays. Justin Rogers just nailed a ball to the right field fence, but Colling Cowgill jumped at the wall, caught it, and nearly doubled up Brad Miller at first.
Ball State, on the other hand, has been undone by its inability to finish innings. Eight of the eleven Wildcat runs have come with two outs. Case in point, last inning. With two outs, Kentucky put together three consecutive hits to extend the lead to six, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Shaun Lehmann is quickly becoming a fan favorite here at Cliff Hagan. In his first at bat after a diving catch in the fifth, Lehmann roped a ball to the left field corner, bringing in Ryan Wilkes. The speedy senior stretched it into a triple diving into third Pete Rose-style, just beating the throw. The crowd rewarded his hussle with standing ovation, his second of the day.
Antone DeJesus followed up with a single into right field that scored Lehmann, making it 11-5 Cats. That's where it stands as we enter the bottom of the seventh. The Cardinals are six runs behind, with only nine outs remaining.
Shaun Lehmann may only bat in the .230s for Kentucky, but he's more than made up for it this weekend with his glove work in left field. He made a diving catch on the warning track yesterday, and just now, in the bottom of the fifth with one man on, he tracked down a ball that was drilled to left-center field. It was a ball he had no business catching -- and I'm not the only one who felt that way. CJ Webb, who opened the inning with a single, was already half way to third when Lehmann came out of nowhere to make the diving catch. Lehmann sprung to his feet and fired to first to double up Webb. Pretty good for a guy who, according to press box legend, never played the outfield before this season.
File this one in the strange but true drawer: we've just seen a 1-2-3 inning here in Lexington. Kory Bucklew, Ball State's third pitcher of the day, retired the Cats in order in the top of the fifth. That followed the first scoreless half inning of the day, delivered courtesy of Wildcat pitcher Matt Robinson. It's 9-5, Cats ahead.
It's John Shelby's world, we're just living in it. Shelby hit a two-run blast to right-center to make it 9-5 Cats after three and a half. It was his 18th homer on the year and it helped make up for an error that he had committed in the second that ended up costing Kentucky three runs.
A 9.00 ERA. That's what Kentucky reliever Matt Robinson has so far in two innings of work. And the fans love him for it. He allowed one more in the bottom of the third, but so long as he can keep it at one run an inning, UK's offense looks like it has enough firepower to win this game.
It's 7-5 Cats as we enter the top of the fourth. So far, there's been at least one run scored in every half inning.
UK got three more in the top of the third, making it 7-4. It's been a hit parade here so far, with both offenses just demolishing the other teams' depleted pitching. A double by Ryan Wilkes scored two. Shaun Lehmann's bunt single moved Wilkes over to third, and Antone DeJesus finally hit the ball out of the infield on a sac fly to center that scored Wilkes. So far, there 11 runs on the board and the teams have combined for 16 hits. Compare that quickly to Friday night's game, in which there were four runs total.
And there's only more to come: the Cardinals are threatening in the bottom of the third. They have runners on second and third with one out.
It wasn't pretty but the Cardinals put one of their own up on the board in the bottom of the first. Matt Singleton walked and then advanced to second on a fielder's choice. With two outs, Brad Miller (he's no Matt Geiger!) shot a line drive up the middle that scored Singleton. That makes it 2-1 Cats as we enter the second.
After getting the first two batters of the inning fairly easily, Ball State starter Ryan Degeeter got himself into trouble by giving up consecutive walks. Michael Bertram made him pay, knocking a single into center that scored one. John shelby followed that with an RBI single of his own, a liner that scraped off the top of shortstop Eric Earnhart's glove. That makes it 2-0 Kentucky as we enter the bottom of the first.
Possibly more importantly, though, Degeeter needed 32 pitches to get out of the inning.
Kentucky's lead off man Antone DeJesus has been a disappointment this weekend for the Cats. After hitting close to .330 on the year, he has only one hit in ten at bats in the tournament and has yet to hit the ball out of the infield. He followed that trend to start today's game, grounding out to second for the game's first out.
The Cats are going with Tommy Warner as their starter. Warner has barely pitched 30 innings on the year, though he has been effective in those outings. He's started five times for the Cats and even has one complete game under his belt. He's 3-1, with a 3.13 ERA.
My prayers have been answered. With one out and runners at the corners, Charleston's Larry Cobb hit a ball to the hole. Ball State shortstop Eric Earnhart went deep, got it and flipped it to second for one out. Second baseman Kyle Dygert turned for two but his throw to first was obviously late. The first base ump, though, called Cobb out anyway, ending the inning.
Are journalists allowed to invoke the mercy rule? It's 10-0 in the top of the ninth and Charleston has the bases loaded with no outs. Wait, because that's not the bad part. The bad part is Ball State just brought in a new pitcher. Now we're sitting here listening to Matchbox 20, waiting for the game to get back going. Good God, just end it already!
Nick Chigges just struck out his eleventh Cardinal of the night, and it was of the stomach punch variety. Down 3-0 to a pinch hitter and with Ball State threatening for the first time tonight, Chigges reached back and threw three straight heaters to get himself out of the jam.
We enter the ninth here in Lexington. Charleston's still up ten and Chigges is still working on a shut out.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth, Brad Miller roped a shot to the left-center field gap. It looked like Joey Friddle might cut it off and hold Miller to a single, but the ball took a funny bounce and went off Friddle's glove and to the fence. Miller turned on the jets (in his own 6'5", 250 lbs. way) and scooted into third. The Cards, though, were unable to get him home, ending the inning with a pair of K's.
Charleston made them pay, turning around and adding another run in the top of the fifth. It's 6-0 here in Lexington. And it looks like Ball State is headed for a rematch with the host team Wildcats.
After only 3+ innings of work, Ball State starter Tyler Pritchard has been pulled. He allowed three runs and six hits in the first three innings and opened the fourth by giving up a double to Phillip Coker. Ball State skipper Greg Beals called in Richie Fralick, who promptly gave up a two-run bomb to Joey Friddle. It's now 5-0 Charleston, with one out in the top of the fourth.
Charleston takes a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the third after a two out rally produced a run and yet another taste of Pawlowski ball. This time, Jess Easterling, after singling, stole second on pitch in the dirt from Cardinal hurler Tyler Pritchard. Alex Garabedian knocked him home two pitches later with a single to center, extending the Cougar lead to three.
They don't call it Pawlowski ball for nothing. After a couple singles to lead off the top of the second, Charleston coach John Pawlowski called for a sac bunt. Ben Lacater laid down a beauty, moving the runners over, and after a pop out in foul territory, Joey Friddle poked a liner over the first baseman's head, bringing in two.
That's where we're at for the time being. It's the top of the third, and Charleston leads 2-0.
Kentucky lives to see another day, beating Notre Dame 10-4.
The telling stat of the day: Notre Dame pitchers (there were five) walked ten batters, and six of those walks came around to score. Dombrowski, in pitching a complete game for the Cats, walked only two. He allowed nine hits and allowed four runs, three of them earned, while striking out four. The Cats will play the loser of tonight's Ball State/Charleston game tomorrow at 2:00. For Notre Dame, the season is over. The Irish finished 45-17-1.
Kentucky scored two runs of its own in the top of the eighth, negating the two Notre Dame put on the board in the seventh. It's back to a seven run game, 10-3.
UK, surprisingly, has chosen to keep Dombrowski in the game, despite his recent troubles and obvious laboring. Let's see if the Irish can make the Cats pay for leaving their starter too long out in the sun.
Notre Dame put two on the board in the bottom of the eighth to pull within 8-3. A double by Sean Gaston brought in the two runs, and with no outs, a man on second, and Kentucky starter Greg Dombrowski fading, Notre Dame looked primed for a rally.
But Dombrowski responded by strking out and popping out the next two batters, and after walking Craig Cooper, he got Brett Lilley to ground out to end the inning.
Dombrowski's day is probably done. His stats: seven innings, giving up three runs on seven hits.
Notre Dame might've just played itself out of the game (and the tournament). On consecutive plays, Notre Dame first made an error, then a mental error, costing them three runs in the process.
With two outs and two on, pitcher Jeff Manship dropped the ball when covering first, allowing one run to score for the Cats. On the next play, with runners on the corners, Colin Cowgill pulled a ball down the left field line. With Wildcat speedster Antone DeJesus easily taking third on the play, Notre Dame left fielder Steve Andres threw to second, presumably to prevent a Cowgill double. That allowed DeJesus to hussle home, barely beating the throw with a hook slide around the Notre Dame catcher, making it 7-1 Kentucky.
Finally, UK's offense has found some life. After UK drew two walks to lead off the top of the fourth, Michael Bertram bunted them over to second and third. Billy Grace, the next man up, rifled a single through the middle, scoring both runners. Shaun Lehmann followed a Ryan Wilkes pop out by taking a ball over the right-center field fence, making it 4-1 Kentucky.
It's now the top of the fifth and Notre Dame has brought in a new pitcher, righty Jeff Manship.
Just like in Lincoln, the fans here at Cliff Hagan are getting anxious as the home team trails early (Notre Dame leads 1-0 in the fourth). Home plate umpire Mac Stokes has a delayed strike call that the fans are none too fond of, especially on the close pitches. Stokes and his crew (as mentioned earlier) have also made a few questionable calls that have only riled up the fans even more.
It's making for a fun atmosphere, though. UK left fielder Shaun Lehmann just made a diving catch on a ball that was over his head and to his right. The place just about erupted. That's to be expected to some degree, I guess. More recently, Sean Couhglin drew a walk, and the crowd had a similar nutso, stand-up-and-cheer response.
Props to Notre Dame center fielder Alex Nettey on a first inning fake out.
With two outs and nobody on, Kentucky All-American Ryan Strieby hit a bomb to center field. The fans at Cliff Hagan erupted, thinking it might be a homer, but Nettey settled about 10 feet shy of the wall like he was going to catch it. Strieby stopped running as he rounded first and the fans went silent with disappointment.
Ball St. finally converted with men in scoring position. With runners on second and third and one out, Justin Rogers, 0-for-3 until that point, hit a single down the third base line, scoring two. Left fielder Shaun Lehmann gunned him out when he tried to stretch it to a double, but the Cards will take it. It's 3-1 as we enter the bottom of the eighth. The top of the line-up is coming up for the Cats.
Okay, so my ability to estimate masses of people is way off. The announced attendance is 3,529 -- a Cliff Hagan Stadium recod. So much for my estimated 5,000. They also gave a number for the people standing on their tip-toes on the hill behind the right-center field fence -- about 250. So much for my estimated 500.
Still, my point stands: there's only a clump of Ball St. fans amidst a sea of Kentucky blue. The score, too, stands: it's 1-1 entering the eighth.
If Ball St. loses this game, you can blaim it on their inability to bat in runners in scoring position. In the fifth inning, the Cards left two men on base. They did the same in the second and fourth innings. At the moment, we are halfway through the game and Ball State has eight hits and only one run to show for it. Kentucky opened its half of the fifth inning with a double from Shaun Lehmann. We'll see if the Cats can show the Cards the proper way to bring a man home.
(They did: Antone DeJesus bunted Lehmann over to third, and Colin Cowgill followed that up with a sac fly to center, tying the game at 1-1.)
Here at Cliff Hagan, there's a pocket of red amidst a sea of Kentucky blue. The stadium supposedly seats 3,000, but it looks like those crafty Kentuckians found a way to wheel in some bleachers and place them along the left-field line. Let's say with the addition of those bleachers, the stadium seats 4,500. And for good measure, let's add to that number the 500 or so fans standing on their tip-toes on the hill behind the right-center field fence. That gives us an even 5,000 people attending this game.
In the top half of the second inning, Ball State looked like it had a chance to open the game up early, loading the bases with only one out. After Kentucky pitcher Craig Snipp struck out Matt Gard, Eric Earnhart stroked a liner into right field. The first run scored easily, but Collin Cowgill's throw nailed the second man at the plate.
It's now the middle of the third, still 1-0 in favor of Ball St.
With a full count and the runner on first going on the pitch, Ben Lasater ripped an RBI double down the left-field line, winning the game for Charleston 5-4 in 16 innings. Oliver Marmol, pinch running for Graham Maiden, scored easily on the play, as Irish left fielder Steve Andres fumbled with the ball by the fence.
At the end of nine innings, the game is tied 4-4. In the top half of the inning, Notre Dame caught a break when Charleston center fielder Larry Cobb dropped a fly ball in deep right center. Brett Lilley advanced to second on the play.
The Irish, though, were unable to bring him in. Charleston called on top reliever, Josh McLaughlin, and he quickly ended the inning, getting the next two batters to ground out. Kyle Weiland, who was brought in to replace Samardzija, pitched a perfect bottom of the ninth for the Irish.
The rain is coming down in Lexington. And there's only more of it on the way. More importantly, though, Charleston has just tied it up in the bottom of the sixth with a three-run shot by Alex Garabedian. With runners on first and second and no outs, Garabedian hit it over the McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" power alley sign in left center.
After giving up two runs in the first and a homerun to Alex Nettey to lead off the second, Charleston starter Graham Godfrey was in trouble of getting his Cougars run out of the stadium. To make matters worse for Godfrey, the Irish followed Nettey's homer with a double and a walk, putting runners on first and second with no outs.
ESPN.com's Pat Forde arrives like a king, chatting up all the Kentucky sports information people. Forde has spent the last ten years (at least) writing about college sports in the area, most of it for the Louisville Courier-Journal. This past winter he moved over to ESPN, but he still does more than his fair share of writing on the area sporting triumvirate -- Louisville, Indiana, and Kentucky.