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Kentucky takes two of three from Bulldogs in final stand at ‘The Cliff’

Cliff Hagan turns the final card during the final regular-season game at Cliff Hagan Stadium Sunday. The Wildcats lost the finale, 18-8, but took two of the games from the Bulldogs over the weekend. (UK Athletics/Noah Richter)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

An era came to an end for the Kentucky baseball team Sunday.

The Wildcats (33-18, 13-14 Southeastern Conference) played their final regular-season at Cliff Hagan Stadium, the team’s home turf for the past 50 years, dropping an 18-8 loss to Mississippi State. Kentucky plays at Murray State Tuesday before closing the regular-season with a three-game series at
Vanderbilt beginning Thursday in Nashville.

Although the series finale with the Bulldogs resulted in a loss, the Wildcats took two of three from Mississippi State and kept hope alive to serve as an NCAA regional host when the postseason begins in three weeks. Kentucky coach Nick Mingione is hopeful the Wildcats can play more games at “The Cliff” during the postseason.

“We’ve got series wins over three Top 10 RPI teams,” he said. “Not three wins, three series wins. I like our chances (to host a series). It’s my job to make sure this wasn’t the last game played here.”

The pre-game ceremonial first pitch was thrown by five former coaches, including Mississippi State’s John Cohen and Gary Henderson, former Kentucky baseball coach Keith Madison, and former basketball standout and Kentucky athletics director Cliff Hagan.

The Bulldogs, who lost the first two games of the series, led 9-0 after the first innings and overcame a late rally by the Wildcats to prevent a series sweep. Kentucky scored just once in the first three innings but crossed the plate with four runs in the sixth inning and three more in the eighth inning. The Wildcats were hindered by five errors, while the Bulldogs belted 20 hits off six Kentucky pitchers.

Among the highlights for Kentucky, freshman Brayden Combs connected on his first collegiate hit — a two-run home run in the sixth inning. The redshirt freshman also added a single in his second appearance at the plate.

Senior Kole Cottam’s double extended his hitting streak to 14 games, while teammate Luke Heyer connected on a pair of two-baggers, giving him 33 extra-base hits on the season. Junior Trey Dawson added a dinger off the scoreboard as part of Kentucky’s 12 hits in the contest.

Luke Becker, Heyer, Combs and Ben Aklinski paced the Wildcats with 12 hits apiece in the contest.

Prior to Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Bulldogs, Kentucky honored the 1988 team that came within one game of reaching the College World Series in 1988. The fifth-largest crowd in stadium history (4.303) witnessed Kentucky’’s 9-6 victory over the Bulldogs in the series opener Friday night.

A total of 4,096 attended the series finale between the two SEC rivals. Overall, 91,551 fans attended the team’s home games this season, a school record, including the top eight single-game crowds in the stadium history. The Top 10 crowds at the stadium have been compiled during the past two years, including two postseason contests last year.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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