LEXINGTON, KY – The University of Alabama found itself down by nine runs entering the top of the sixth inning.
Senior third baseman Jake Smith capped a five-run inning with his fourth career grand slam to ignite the Crimson Tide offense, as No. 19 Alabama rallied for an improbable 11-9 come-from-behind win on Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium in Lexington.
The nine-run Alabama comeback marks the largest in school history, dating back to at least the 1995 season, the last year game-by-game records were kept by the Crimson Tide.
Smith went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and four RBI to lead the Tide for his most productive game for the Crimson Tide since opening day. Smith was 4-for-5 with two RBI in the Tide's season opening win over South Alabama on Feb. 20.
Alabama (21-11, 5-7) trailed 9-0 entering the sixth inning and UK starter Alex Meyer had cruised through the first five innings with seven strikeouts.
Things changed in the sixth as sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas drew a leadoff walk and junior shortstop Josh Rutledge followed with a single to left field to put runners on the corners with no outs. After junior second baseman Ross Wilson popped out to shallow right field, Meyer walked senior first baseman Clay Jones to load the bases.
Left-hander Mike Kaczmarek replaced Meyer and promptly hit sophomore DH Jon Kelton to force Dugas home from third base with the Tide's first run of the game. After fouling off three consecutive two-strike pitches, Smith blasted a grand slam over the scoreboard in left-center field to pull the Tide to within 9-5. It was his fourth career grand slam and second in as many years against Kentucky to finish with a season-high four RBI.
"The grand slam itself was big, but I think the fact that Jake hit the grand slam was as big as anything," Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "The team and guys have been counting on Jake to give us a big blow and he did and that was big in itself."
Alabama did not stop there. The Crimson Tide took the lead with a five-run eighth inning and added an insurance run in the ninth as UA outscored UK 11-0 over the final four innings.
In the eighth, Alabama plated five runs on five hits to take a 10-9 lead. Kelton opened the inning with a double and moved to third on Smith's single to left field. Junior DH David Kindred laced a double into the right field corner to score Kelton and second Smith to third with no outs as UA cut the lead to 9-6. Freshman right fielder Andrew Miller followed with an RBI infield single to score Smith to make it 9-7.
Junior catcher Brock Bennett laid down a sacrifice bunt and was safe at first base when second baseman Chris Bisson dropped the throw. With the bases loaded, Dugas drove in Miller with an RBI ground out to pull the Tide to within 9-8. Rutledge capped the inning with a two-run single off UK closer Matt Little to score Miller and Bennett and put the Tide ahead 10-9.
Alabama added an insurance run in the ninth inning with four more hits. Smith singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Miller's base hit to right as UA took an 11-9 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
Junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease, who stranded two runners on base in the eighth, retired the Wildcats in the ninth for his second save. He struck out UK's three-hole hitter Glad to end the game and snap the Tide's five-game SEC road losing streak.
Sophomore right-hander Tyler White and Kilcrease combined for four scoreless innings out of the pen with four strikeouts. White (3-2) was the winning pitcher with two scoreless innings, while Kilcrease notched his second save.
UK right-hander Jordan Cooper, the fourth of six pitchers used by Kentucky, allowed three runs in the eighth inning and was charged with the loss. Cooper fell to 1-2 with the loss.
"This was a big win for us," Gaspard said. "I think as much as anything it shows our players and our team what you can do when you stay together and you play the game hard and you play it the right way. Momentum in this game plays such a big role.
"In the front end of the game, we didn't play very hard or play with good energy and effort. Sometimes it gets to that point before you realize what you have. Hopefully for our team this is the turning point. There were some great efforts today, but I think as much as anything it was about competing and having the will to find a way to win the ballgame. The last four innings was a matter of just wanting the game really bad and we found a way to get it."
Kentucky (21-12, 4-8 SEC) scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and held a 9-0 lead after five innings.
The Wildcats got on the board in the third inning when Braden Kapteyn's two-out single scored Glad to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.
UK stretched its lead to 3-0 in the fourth inning on a solo home run by Taylor Black and a two-out RBI double by Chad Wright. Black's fourth home run of the year bounced off the top of the wall in left field just past the glove of left fielder Jon Kelton for the solo home run.
Kentucky seemed to break the game open with a six-run fifth inning as the Wildcats took a 9-0 lead. UK took advantage of two errors and a hit batter to score six runs in the inning. Kaptyen had an RBI single, Wright added a two-run single and Glad's RBI single capped the inning and gave the Wildcats a seemingly safe lead.
In addition to Smith's three hits and four RBI, Rutledge went 3-for-6 with two RBI and Miller went 2-for-4 with two RBI. Kelton and Kindred also added two hits each for the Tide, who finished the game with 14 hits.
The two teams combined for 20 runs and 31 hits in nearly four-hour game. Wright, Glad and Kapteyn had three hits each for Kentucky.