LEXINGTON, Ky. – After 50 years, 733 victories and countless memories, Cliff Hagan Stadium hosted the final regular season game in its storied history on Sunday on a pristine late spring day befitting the best of what baseball has to offer.
Although the outcome wasn’t what No. 17 Kentucky and the capacity crowd had hoped – the Cats lost 18-8 to Mississippi State – the weekend was a success with a series win over the Bulldogs that kept alive hopes of The Cliff hosting an NCAA Regional in three weeks.
“We’ve got series wins over three Top 10 RPI teams,” UK coach Nick Mingione said. “Not three wins, three SERIES wins. I like our chances (to host). It’s my job to make sure this wasn’t the last game played here.”
A total of 91,551 fans attended home games this season, a school-record total for the program and the top eight regular season crowds in the stadium’s history came in 2018. Combined with two postseason games last year, the top 10 crowds at the facility have all been the past two seasons.
After a pregame ceremonial first pitch by five former coaches, the son of a former coach and stadium namesake Cliff Hagan, the Cats struggled to slow the game down as Mississippi State jumped out to a 9-0 lead through three innings. The Cats made a run – as has happened in The Cliff many times – late in the game but it wasn’t meant to be on this day.
There were highlights, however. Redshirt Freshman Brayden Combs blasted a pinch hit, two-run home run in the sixth for his first collegiate hit. It was just his sixth at bat of his career and he followed it up with a single in his second at bat.
Senior Luke Heyer and junior Kole Cottam continued their assault on opposing pitchers, as Cottam extended his career-long hitting streak to 14 games with a double and Heyer smoked a pair of doubles to give him 33 extra-base hits this season. Junior Trey Dawson connected for a home run off the scoreboard to provide fireworks as well.
The Cats will travel to Paducah, Ky. on Tuesday night to face Murray State and then on to Nashville for the final regular season series at Vanderbilt next Thursday-Saturday.
Top 1st – Rowdey Jordan and Tanner Allen singled to RF. Allen advanced to second on a wild pitch and third on the ensuing throwing error that scored Jordan from third. Hunter Stovall singled through the right side, scoring Allen. Stovall stole second. Elijah MacNamee doubled to LCF, scoring Stovall. Miss. State 3, UK 0.
Top 2nd – Jordan Westburg singled up the middle, advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt and scored on Jake Mangum’s double to LCF. Jordan singled to LF, scoring Mangum. Allen doubled to LF, scoring Mangum. Allen advanced to third on the throw. Stovall hit a SAC fly to LF, scoring Allen. Miss. State 7, UK 0.
Top 3rd – Justin Foscue singled. Marshall Gilbert reached on an error by the SS, moving Foscue to second. A wild pitch moved both runners up. Westburg doubled just inside the 3B bag, scoring Foscue and Gilbert. Miss. State 9, UK 0.
Bottom 3rd – Trey Dawson homered to CF. Miss. State 1, UK 0.
Top 5th – Gilbert singled through the left side and advanced to second on Westburg’s walk. Gilbert and Westburg advanced on a wild pitch, with Gilbert scoring on a throwing error by the catcher. Miss. State 10, UK 1.
Top 6th – Stovall and MacNamee singled. Josh Hatcher walked to load the bases. Gilbert reached on an infield hit, scoring Stovall. MacNamee advanced to third on the infield hit and then home on a throwing error by the SS. Westburg doubled down the LF line, scoring Gilbert and Hatcher. Miss. State 14, UK 1.
Bottom 6th – Kole Cottam doubled to LF and advanced to third on Luke Becker’s line single to LF. Luke Heyer doubled to RCF, scoring Cottam and advancing Becker to third. Troy Squires grounded out, scoring Becker. Brayden Combs hit a pinch hit homer to RF, scoring Heyer. Miss. State 14, UK 5.
Bottom 8th – Heyer doubled to LCF, advanced to third on Squires’ groundout and scored on Zeke Lewis’ single to RCF. Combs singled to CF, advancing Lewis to second. Ben Aklinski doubled to LF, scoring Lewis and moving Combs to third. Dawson grounded out to SS, scoring Combs and advancing Aklinski to third. Miss. State 14, UK 8.
Top 9th – Westburg doubled to RF, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Mangum’s single to CF. Jordan walked and Allen was hit by a pitch. MacNamee doubled, scoring Mangum and Jordan. Alexander singled to LF, scoring MacNamee. Miss. State 18, UK 8.
- Kentucky has scored in 59 consecutive games and 135 of the past 136 dating to the 2016 season. The lone shutout came in a seven-inning game.
- The Cats recorded a “biggie” inning in each of the three games of the series and now have 28 this season. A “biggie” inning is one of at least four runs.
- The Cats scored 21 runs in the series and 28 in four games this week.
- Several Cats extended impressive reached base safely streaks …
o Junior C/1B Kole Cottam has reached safely in 14 straight games, has hits in 25 of the past 27 games and is riding a career-long 14-game hit streak.
o Junior INF Trey Dawson has now reached base safely in 12 straight and 21 of his last 22 games.
o Senior INF/OF Luke Heyer has reached in 14 straight games and 19 of the last 20 games.
o Senior INF Luke Becker has reached in 49 of 51 games (and 93 of 95 including 2017 summer ball).
- Redshirt Freshman Brayden Combs went 2-for-2 with a home run, two runs and two RBI.
o The homer run was his first career hit and just his sixth at bat.
o He is the first UK player to homer for his first career hit since T.J. Collett hit a grand slam against Ole Miss on March 23, 2017.
o He followed up the home run with a sharp single to CF.
- Senior INF/OF Luke Heyer went 2-for-5 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI.
o It was Heyer’s team-leading 21st multi-hit game of the season.
o Heyer now has 16 doubles and 17 home runs on the season.
- Senior INF Luke Becker went 2-for-5 with a double and a run.
o He has 17 multi-hit games this season and 44 for his career.
o He had multi-hit games all three games in the series.
- Junior INF Trey Dawson went 1-for-4 with a home run and two RBI.
o The home run was his third of the season.
o It was his third multi-RBI game of the season.