UK baseball ends era with its last regular-season series at ‘The Cliff’

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Cliff Hagan Stadium has been home for the Kentucky baseball team for the past 50 years. The team's final regular-season series at the venue will be Friday-Sunday. (Kentucky Today/Keith Taylor)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — An era will come to an end this weekend for the Kentucky baseball team.

The Wildcats will bid farewell to Cliff Hagan Stadium when the Wildcats play host to Mississippi State for a three-game series, starting Friday. The series concludes Sunday.

Several memorable performances have occurred during the past 50 years, none bigger than last season when the Wildcats edged N.C. State 10-5 in a contest that was delayed more than two hours by inclement weather. The game began at 9:20 p.m. and ended past midnight. A record crowd of 5,005 attended the five-run victory on June 5, giving the Wildcats their first regional title in school history.

Other memorable moments are as follows:

• April 27, 1982: Just five days after losing to Eastern Kentucky in Richmond, coach Keith Madison’s Cats got their revenge against the Colonels in a big way, winning 21-4. Bill Sandry provided much of the offense for Kentucky, hitting four home runs and just missing a fifth as the Wildcats posted a blowout win.

• April 9, 1988: Kentucky hosted Vanderbilt in an SEC doubleheader that provided not one, but two fantastic finishes. In the first game, the teams were tied 3-3 when Kentucky came to bat for the final time. The Wildcats loaded the bases and Mark Blythe won the game with a walk-off grand slam over the wall in right field. If that wasn’t enough, Kentucky did it again in the second game. Trailing 10-8 and, again, batting for the final time, the Cats loaded the bases. This time, Robbie Buchanan hit a grand slam, giving Kentucky a 12-10 win and a doubleheader sweep on a pair of walk-off grand slams.

• March 18, 1989: LSU All-American pitcher Ben McDonald came to Lexington with a scoreless streak of 41.2 innings, and extended that streak to a then-SEC record 44.2 innings early in this game. However, the future major leaguer saw that streak come to an end as Kentucky racked up 13 hits and seven runs against him, including a home run by shortstop Billy White that tied the score in the ninth inning. Mark Blythe and Mike Harris each had three hits for the Wildcats.

• March 1, 2002: Kentucky plays its first game in Cliff Hagan Stadium following a $4.2 million renovation that installed 2,000 chair-back seats and new press box. The game itself featured an outstanding pitching performance from UK right-hander and future major leaguer Joe Blanton, who allowed just one earned run in eight innings of work while striking out 13.

 June 2, 2006: For the first time in school history, Kentucky played host to an NCAA regional contest, as the Wildcats faced Ball State in the opening round of the tournament. Unfortunately, it is Ball State’s Ben Snyder who shined the brightest, holding Kentucky’s potent offense in check for eight innings in a 3-1 Cardinals’ victory. Kentucky bounced back to beat Notre Dame and Ball State in the regional before falling to College of Charleston.

• April 8, 2008: Kentucky and rival Louisville played an epic, extra-inning game that went into the next day and ended with an unlikely hero. With the score tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 12thinning, Kentucky’s Keenan Wiley hit his first career home run, lifting the Wildcats to a 7-6 win. It was Wiley’s fourth hit of the game and the biggest of his career.

• May 16, 2010: In his final regular-season at-bat at Cliff Hagan Stadium, senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer came to the plate with the bases loaded and his team trailing defending national champion LSU, 4-2. Nidiffer promptly launched a Matty Ott pitch over the wall in left field for a grand slam, providing the final runs in a 6-4 come-from-behind win for the Cats. With the win, Kentucky swept LSU in a three-game series for the first time since 1991.

• March 17, 2012: Kentucky tied a school record with its 19th straight win, this one coming in dramatic fashion. Luke Maile hit a two-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Cats past two-time defending national champion South Carolina 4-3. Kentucky started the 2012 season with a  school-record 22 straight wins.

• April 4, 2014: AJ Reed had an incredible 2014 season and was the consensus National Player of the Year. On that night, Reed was spectacular, both on the mound and at the plate. Reed pitched seven scoreless innings against 12th-ranked Florida, allowing just five hits while striking out three batters. At the plate, Reed had two doubles and crushed his 10th home run of the season as the Cats thumped the Gators 17-1.

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

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Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Michael Watkins...what do all those names have in common? Greatness...Michael Watkins is from a small town in Eastern Kentucky where he grew up dreaming of being a sports broadcaster. At the age of 16 he started working WJSN radio station in his hometown of Jackson Kentucky in his first step toward that dream. Michael has been at Wallingford Broadcasting since November 2012 and took over as Sports Director in 2015. The dream of being a sports broadcaster became a bigger reality when the Wallingford Sports Show was launched in late 2015. He also can be heard throughout the year calling local high school sports in the area across the different Wallingford Media Platforms. Michael and his wife, Morgan, gave birth to their first child in March of 2017 and the city of Richmond is now home to the Wallingford Sports Guy.