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May 12, 2013

Vanderbilt wins SEC title, sweeps UK 10-5

LEXINGTON, KY -- No. 1 ranked Vanderbilt continued its remarkable 2013 season by sweeping Kentucky 10-5, and clinching the Southeastern Conference regular season championship.

The title is the sixth SEC title in school history, and the fifth outright conference championship.

VU improves its record to 45-6, and 24-2 in the SEC. With three games scheduled versus Alabama this coming weekend, Vanderbilt can notch the best record in SEC history. South Carolina currently owns that mark, at 25-5.

It was VU's ninth series sweep of the season, and seventh in conference play. In addition, Sunday's win is the team's 12th straight, marking the third time this season VU has won at least 12 straight games.

Kentucky falls to 28-22, and 10-17 in SEC play.

"We're just having fun and doing it with the people you love," said SEC Player of the Year candidate Tony Kemp. "You bring it out all year and go through so many hard strength days and long days on the field...and we're not done yet."

Vanderbilt took a 1-0 lead in their first at-bat, after Kemp got a lead-off single, stole second, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly and then came home on another.

But Kentucky didn't go quietly, stranding two in the bottom of the first with two hard-hit singles.

In the second, UK got on the board after Austin Cousino doubled to the wall in right, and advanced to third on a single by Matt Reida. A routine single by Michael Thomas was bobbled by Jack Lupo in left, and the error scored Cousino from second, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 lead.

But that lead vanished in the top of the third, when Spencer Navin lead off by doubling down the left field line. Lupo grounded Navin around to third, and a fly to short center by Kemp scored Navin.

The Commodores put three more runs on the board in the fourth. Lead-off hitter Mike Yastrzemski singled to left center, and a Harrell double to right that went all the way to the wall scored Yastrzemski all the way from first. Gregor then walked, and back-to-back sacrifice flies by Zander Weil and Vince Conde scored Harrell. A single by Spencer Navin scored Gregor, making it 5-2 Vandy.

But again UK would answer in the bottom of the fourth. Starter T.J. Pecoraro struggled with keeping his fast ball down most of the day, and paid for it. After Cousino got an infield single to Turner at third, Pecoraro grooved a first pitch fast ball to Brett Kuhn, who deposited the ball over the left field fence to bring UK within 5-4.

Pecoraro came back for the fifth, but his first pitch to beefy A.J. Reed was again high, and Reed blasted the ball over the parking lot that sits 100 feet beyond the right field wall. That was all for Pecoraro, who got a stern talking to by pitching coach Scott Brown before taking a seat in the dugout.

That's when junior left-hander Stephen Rice came in, and had his most complete outing of the year. Rice went the rest of the way, allowing just two hits and five strikeouts and just one walk. A loud contingent of Vanderbilt fans got increasingly more boisterous as each inning passed, as the Commodores inched closer to closing out UK and grabbing the conference title.

Vanderbilt's bats immediately put needed distance between the Dores and the Cats in the sixth, when Gregor smashed a two run homer with Harrell aboard, giving VU a 7-5 lead. Vandy got another run in the seventh on a two-out RBI by Turner to score Kemp, and two more in the eighth on a hit batsman and back-to-back singles by Conde, Navin and Lupo.

Rice (3-0) got the win for Vanderbilt, while UK starter Stephen Littrell (5-5) took the loss for Kentucky. Littrell went 6.2 innings, allowing eight runs on eight hits, with two walks and three strikeouts.

Vanderbilt registered 11 two-out RBI for the three game series. Navin led VU with three hits and Gregor scored three runs. Kemp was 2-for-4 with one RBI and scored twice, and ended the weekend batting 8-for-14.

Cousino went 3-for-4 for UK.

Vanderbilt returns to Nashville for its final four regular season games of the year. The Commodores face Belmont at Hawkins Field on Tuesday, and then face Alabama in a three game series beginning on Thursday.

Vanderbilt will enter the SEC Tournament next week in Hoover, Alabama as the field's No. 1 seed.

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