UK preps for South Carolina, knocks off Xavier

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Seven of nine position starters contributed a hit – including a 2-for-2 day from senior Ryan Wilkes – to lead the No. 8 Kentucky baseball team to a 5-2 win over the Xavier Musketeers, on a windy day at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

Kentucky (21-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) got multi-hit performances from Wilkes and senior catcher Tyler Howe, as well as doubles from preseason All-American outfielder Collin Cowgill and third baseman Chris McClendon. Sawyer Carroll, Troy Frazier and Chris Bisson each added hits, with Carroll extending his hit streak to a team-high seven games.

On the mound, UK got two innings from sophomore starter Clint Tilford, before Tyler Henry relieved him, tossing 4 1/3 innings to pick up his first win of the year. Henry struck out six, allowing only two hits, walking three Musketeers. Senior right-hander Aaron Lovett, the league leader in SEC saves in 2007, notched his first save of the year, working the final 2 2/3 innings, striking out one and not allowing a base runner.

Xavier starter Tom Shirley lasted six innings, allowed four runs, walked two and struck out four. Joe Kohler worked the final two frames, allowing two hits and one run.

Kentucky returns to action on Friday, traveling to No. 7 South Carolina for a crucial SEC road series. First pitch at Sarge Frye Field on Friday is set for 7 p.m. ET and the series will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio). Fans in Lexington can catch the action on WLAP 630-AM or in Louisville, on WKJK 1080-AM.

For the year, UK has compiled impressive offensive and defensive figures, batting for a .354 average and outscoring opposition, 233-67. On the mound, UK ranks as the only team in the SEC to have a sub-3.00 ERA, posting a 2.35 ERA in 203 innings, striking out 202. The Wildcats are on pace to score 687 total runs in a 56-game schedule, a total that would shatter the school record for runs scored in a season, set in 2006 with 500 runs scored in 61 games.

UK opened its season on Feb. 23 with a 10-1 win over Xavier at the Coca-Cola Classic in Mobile, Ala. Last Thursday, the Wildcats earned a 12-1 win over the Musketeers, courtesy of five home runs – including two from Spear. UK leads the all-time series with the Musketeers 27-8, claiming the past eight meetings.

Kentucky got on the board in the first inning, as Wilkes ripped a leadoff single up the middle. Cowgill followed getting hit by a pitch and Brian Spear sacrificed him over with a bunt on a bang-bang play that drew the first baseman off the bag. Shirley misfired on a 2-2 pitch in the dirt, scooting past Tyler Aholt, the Xavier backstop, and allowing Wilkes to score from third on a wild pitch.

Xavier got on the board in the top of the second, plating two runs on three hits and a Wildcat error. Dan Hayden led off with a single through the left side and Aholt laid down a sacrifice bunt to first base, forcing Spear to field the grounder and fire an underhand toss to Tilford, covering first base. Tilford fielded the ball but had it scoot out of his glove, for a fielding error. Phil Bauer followed, ripping a double down the right-field line, scoring Hayden. Drew Schmidt scored Bauer, with a single through the right side, making it 2-1 Xavier.

UK regained the lead in the bottom half of the fourth, plating two runs on four hits. After Spear struck out to lead off, Carroll ripped a single up the middle and stole second base, his fifth steal of the year. Chris McClendon followed, ripping a double down the left-field line, scoring Carroll. Frazier added his 19th RBI of the season, connecting on a slow breaking pitch from Shirley up the middle, scoring McClendon.

In the seventh, UK added two runs to extend its lead to 5-2. Howe ripped a single to centerfield, and Wade laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Howe into scoring position. Bisson, UK’s freshman second baseman, ripped a single through the right side, moving with Howe into scoring position on a wild pitch. With Howe on third, Wilkes lofted a sacrifice fly into centerfield, scoring the senior backstop. Cowgill, who ranks third on the team with 27 RBI, followed, ripping a high-hoping double down the left-field line, scoring Bisson. On the year, Cowgill has tallied a team-high tying 10 doubles. Wade, a fellow Lexington native, also has totaled 10 two baggers on the season.