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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The USC Upstate baseball team gave a top 10 team in the country all they could handle Monday afternoon, but a late rally by the University of Kentucky propelled the Wildcats to an 11-10 victory at Harley Park in non-conference action.
The Spartans (1-1) scored runs in five consecutive innings against the No. 8 Wildcats (3-0) and led 10-6 after seven innings, but Kentucky benefited from a crucial eighth-inning error to propel a comeback that saw the Wildcats score five straight runs and shock Upstate 11-10.
"I really enjoy playing them," said USC Upstate Head Coach Matt Fincher. "They are well coached, have good athletes and can beat you different ways. It is really good for us to have an opportunity to play a team like Kentucky."
The scoring started for Upstate in the second inning when Daniel Seeba ripped a one-out triple to right center and Brandon Patterson followed and singled through the left side to plate the first run of the game and give the Spartans an early lead.
The one-run lead was quickly erased in the third inning when Kentucky used three hits, including a Lucas Witt two-run single down the left field line, to score four runs and take their first lead of the afternoon.
After the Spartans tacked on a run in the bottom of the third courtesy of a Luke Weber RBI single up the middle, the Wildcats responded with two more runs in the fourth that chased Upstate starter David Roseboom and left the Spartans down 6-2.
Upstate wasted no time putting the Wildcats on their heels in the last of fourth, scoring five runs on six hits and knocking Kentucky starter and Preseason Louisville Slugger All-American Corey Littrell out of the game.
"Littrell is a really good pitcher and I thought our hitters did an excellent job against him," said Fincher. "We stayed in the zone for the most part and put the barrel on the ball from to time and got him out of the game probably a little bit earlier than he would have liked, so I was real pleased."
Tyler Miller got the hit parade started with a two-run blast to left field, his first home run of the young season to cut the lead to 6-4. After back to-back singles from Jordan Stampler and Tyler Lesch, Gaither Bumgardner guided a single down the left field line, scoring Stampler and sending Lesch racing down to second. An error loaded the bases for Patterson who promptly lined a single through the left side, scoring two runs and giving Upstate the lead once again at 7-6.
After a Lesch sacrifice fly scored a run in the fifth, Trey Richardson unleashed on a 1-0 fastball and belted a two-run blast to left in the sixth, his second home run in as many games, to give Upstate its largest lead of the game at 10-6.
Chad Sobotka came on in relief and stifled the Wildcat hitters for two straight innings, notching six strikeouts in the first eight outs he recorded, but then the Kentucky rally started in the eighth inning.
J.T. Riddle smacked a first pitch fastball from Sobotka over the wall in right field for the first run of the inning and after a single and two walks, a wild pitch brought a run home and an error at shortstop plated two more runs and knotted the score 10-10.
Kentucky came out in the ninth with a renewed energy looking to take the lead and they did just that, using a one-out walk and a wild pitch to put Kyle Barrett in scoring for pinch hitter Thomas Bernal who lined a single up the middle to plate the go-ahead run and make it 11-10.
"This is one I will think about a little bit and see what kinds of things we can say to teach our guys where it will be a favorable result next time," said Fincher.
Upstate had a chance in the ninth when Brody Greer singled through the left side with one out, but the Spartans were unable to advance the runner and Kentucky held on for the comeback victory on the road.
Paul Jeanot (0-1) was the tough-luck loser as he surrendering the ninth-inning run. Ben Augenstein was impressive in relief, tossing 1.1 innings and striking out one, while Sobotka lasted 3.0 innings and gave up four hits and two earned runs. He also tallied a game-high six strikeouts.
Trevor Gott (1-0) earned the win for the Wildcats, tossing the final 2.0 innings and allowing just one hit and no runs.
The Spartans will have a quick turnaround, welcoming Presbyterian to town Wednesday afternoon, one of seven straight home games to open the season. First pitch against the Blue Hose is slated for 4 p.m. at Harley Park.