LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Junior southpaw James Paxton struck out a career-high 11 and junior outfielder Troy Frazier ripped his first career grand slam, to the lead the No. 29 Kentucky Wildcats to a dominating 16-5 home-opening win over the Western Michigan Broncos, on Friday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (3-2) won its 21st consecutive regular-season home game at Cliff Hagan Stadium and posted its school-record seventh consecutive home-opening win.
The Wildcats used a pitching gem from Paxton, who twirled six innings, allowing only two hits and one run, striking out a career-best 11. Paxton’s 11 strikeouts marks the most for a UK pitcher since lefty Craig Snipp struck out 11 Georgia hitters to clinch the 2006 Southeastern Conference Championship for Kentucky on May 19, 2006 in Athens, Ga. James Rodriguez’s 12 strikeouts against East Tennessee State in 2004 and Joe Blanton’s 16 strikeouts against Ball State in 2002, marked the only UK pitchers since 2002 to strike out more than 11 hitters.
UK returns to action Saturday, with a double-header with Western Michigan, beginning at Cliff Hagan at noon ET. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with the Voice of UK Baseball Neil Price and Dick Gabriel, calling the action.
Frazier joined freshman Andy Burns to lead the run production, as the duo each tallied four RBI, with Frazier’s four coming with one swing, his first career grand slam in the third inning. Burns, a freshman infielder from Fort Collins, Colo., went 2-for-5 with four RBI and two runs scored, including his first career homer, an opposite-field jack. Frazier finished 2-for-2, with a walk and four RBI. Chris Wade and Bryan Rose joined the multi-hit parade, with Wade going 2-for-4 with two RBI and Rose adding a game-best 3-for-4 evening.
Paxton, a lefty from Lander, British Columbia, threw 97 pitches on the day with 64 pitches coming as strikes. Paxton, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the first 16 batters faced. In his season-debut, a win over Sun Belt power Troy last weekend, Paxton worked 5.2 innings, allowed just two hits and struck out six, throwing first-pitch strikes to the first nine faced and 19 of his first 24 hitters faced in the game. In 11.2 innings in two games, Paxton has allowed eight hits, three runs, walking just one and striking out a team-best 17.
After Paxton exited in the sixth inning, freshman Alex Meyer, a 6-foot-8, 205-pounder, closed out the game for UK, tossing the final three frames, striking out three for his first career save. WMU starter Billy Morrison, a preseason All-MAC selection, allowed nine hits and 12 runs in 3.2 innings, walking four and striking out two.
The Wildcats got homers from Burns, Frazier and catcher Marcus Nidiffer, equaling its four-game home run total from its season-opening series in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Nidiffer, a 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, added three RBI and a walk.
Kentucky got on the board first with a two-run homer by Nidiffer in the second inning. After Rose had singled to left field, Nidiffer knocked a long home run over the left field wall, a light-tower shot that cleared the McDonald’s sign in left-center field. Later in the inning, after Burns reached on an error by the second baseman and Bisson laid down a text-book bunt single to first base, the 2008 SEC leader in doubles, Wade got his first double on the season, hitting the ball off the left-field wall. Both Burns and Bisson came home to score and Kentucky took a 4-0 lead.
Western Michigan would answer Kentucky’s offensive explosion in the second inning with a leadoff home run in third by Grant Simotes, an opposite-field homer over the 310-foot marker in right field.
After the Broncos answered, the Wildcats responded in the third. Spencer Korus led off the inning reaching on an error by the shortstop and Rose singled to right to put runners on first and second. Nidiffer then laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third. Kentucky would add two runs to their lead when Burns singled to right field. After a walk and another single to second base, Kentucky would blow the game right open with Frazier’s grand slam. On a 2-1 count, Frazier sent a bomb to center field that easily cleared the wall and bounced off the batters eye, to put Kentucky up 10-1.
Kentucky would add insurance runs in both the fourth and fifth innings. Burns hit a two-run homer to right field in the fourth to make it 12-1. Kentucky would add four more runs in the fifth inning when Farris, Rose and Nidiffer would each claim and RBI. Kentucky’s 16th run was scored when a wild pitch allowed Farris to come home.
WMU’s Nathan Marquardt hit a solo shot in the seventh, Kyle Galbraith hit a two-run homer in the eighth after McMillin got hit-by-pitch. In the ninth, Derek Mosher hit a solo shot to right field to make it 16-5.
Morrison was replaced by Neal Miller who threw 1.1 innings, allowing three hits and four runs. John Navage finished the game for the Broncos. The junior threw three innings of scoreless baseball, striking out one and only allowing one hit.