LEXINGTON, Ky. - As a true-freshman starter, Jordan Cooper represents Kentucky's baseball future.
Saturday night, though, he was all about the present at Cliff Hagan Stadium, notching career highs of 6 1/3 innings and five strikeouts to lead the Wildcats to a 2-1 victory against No. 6 South Carolina.
The Wildcats (25-21, 8-15 SEC) pulled to within a game of ninth-place Alabama (9-14). Tennessee (10-13) has the eighth and final spot to the SEC Tournament with seven games to play.
"We needed a big win," said Cooper, a 17th round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates last year. "Just trying to do the best you can for your team to jump back in this race."
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South Carolina (36-10, 17-6) dropped into a first-place tie with Florida. The series rubber match is set for today at 1 p.m.
Alex Meyer will start for UK, his first appearance since April 11 due to mononucleosis.
Braden Kapteyn drove in both Kentucky runs Saturday with a fifth-inning double, after Evan Marzilli's homer had given the Gamecocks the lead in the top half of the inning.
Matt Little took over from Cooper (3-4), throwing 2 1/3 innings of two-hit ball for his seventh save.
The Wildcats, who made five errors during Friday's 13-9 loss, were error-free Saturday and turned two double plays.
"We had great defense tonight," Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said. "Obviously the starting pitching was outstanding. Matt Little was very good. It was really a team effort, and I'm really pleased with the way we bounced back."
Each team mustered six hits and Cooper's counterpart, right-hander Sam Dyson (4-4), went the distance. Cooper's only mistake came when Marzilli knocked a 1-1 pitch over the wall in center.
"You've got to keep the ball down and let your defense take care of the rest," Cooper said. "Just do what you know how to do."
Gunner Glad started UK's rally in the bottom of the fifth with a one-out single. With Glad running, Lance Ray singled to right, putting runners on the corners. With Ray on the move, Kapteyn smacked his two-run double to right-center.
"Coach gave the hit-and-run so I'm swinging for sure," Kapteyn said, "and it just happened to be he hung a slider. I just put a good swing on it, put it in the gap."