Walk-off HR lifts Vandy over Cats
Troy LaNeve went 3-for-3 and hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night in Nashville to give No. 3 Vanderbilt a 4-2 win over upset-minded Kentucky.
LaNeve went the opposite way and drove a 3-1 pitch from the Wildcats' Daniel Harper over the wall in left-center to give the Commodores a hard-fought victory.
Vanderbilt (38-12, 18-9 SEC) held a 2-0 lead behind the strong starting pitching of College World Series MVP Kumar Rocker, who struck out 11, but UK broke through for a pair of runs in the sixth inning on a two-run homer by John Rhodes.
It remained 2-2 until LaNeve's game-winning blast.
Kentucky (27-21, 11-17 SEC) had a golden opportunity in the top of the ninth, loading the bases with two outs, but Vanderbilt reliever Luke Murphy (1-1) retired the Cats' Cam Hill on a fly ball to left field to escape the jam.
Cole Stupp started for UK and turned in one of his best outings of the season. The sophomore right-hander matched the All-American Rocker nearly pitch for pitch during his time on the mound. He allowed just two runs on seven hits and one walk over seven innings of work.
Harper (3-1) worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning but was not as fortunate in the ninth, walking the lead-off batter before serving up LaNeve's home run.
Kentucky lost its sixth straight SEC game and fell to 3-9 against Top 10 clubs this season, further placing its NCAA hopes in danger.
The series resumes Friday with Game 2 at 7:30 ET. The Cats will likely need to win the next two games in Nashville and make a deep run at the SEC Tournament next week in Hoover, Ala., to make the NCAA Tournament.