LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Chandler Shepherd extended his streak without an earned run to 16.2 consecutive innings, and Micheal Thomas and A.J. Reed each belted home runs, leading No. 22 Kentucky to a 24-1 win over Ball State to even the series, on a pleasant Saturday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (12-3) posted its fourth-largest margin of victory with the 23-run win over Ball State to even the series in the middle game of the three-game set. UK plated 24 runs on 19 hits, with only the last three runs of the game coming after a Ball State error. Over its four-game week, Kentucky has scored a total of 50 runs, including a twinbill sweep of Cincinnati on Wednesday.
“We did a great job at the plate,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “We scored a bunch of runs without an error. We had good concentration and didn’t try to do too much. We also did a great job of swinging at strikes and looking at balls. We took advantage when we were in advantage counts.”
The Wildcats got a career game from Thomas, a fifth-year senior backstop. The native of Elizabethtown, Ky., belted his first homer of the year, going 3-for-4 with a career-high six RBI, after posting a career-high 4-for-5 outing vs. BSU on Friday night.
“Micheal does a good job of letting it travel,” Henderson said. “His concentration is at a different place than it has been in his career. His swing is better and he is in better shape. He has been really focused and hasn’t been trying to do too much. He has been competitive, especially with two strikes.”
Over UK’s four-game week, Thomas is hitting .500 (7-for-14) with two doubles, one homer and nine RBI.
“I have been able to see the ball better and not think too much about my swing,” Thomas said. “The biggest thing in the past for me is thinking too much about my swing. When you are in a slump usually your swing is not the problem. I just have tried to clear my mind and see the ball as best as possible.”
UK also got the eighth home run of the year from Reed, the NCAA leader in homers and RBI. A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed’s solo blast started the second inning, with the 6-foot-4, 240-pound two-way star driving a 0-1 offering over the opposite-field fence. Reed finished 1-for-3 with two runs and is now hitting .434 (23-for-53) with four doubles, eight homers and 27 RBI, slugging .962 and reaching base at a .563 clip. On the mound, Reed – a member of the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Watch List – is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in 26 innings.
“It is really encouraging (that A.J. Reed’s homer went to the opposite-field) but he has been doing that for 15 games,” Henderson said. “He has done a good job of letting it travel and using the whole park. He hit a ball to right as well, but the home run was to left and that was encouraging.”
A native of Louisa, Ky., Shepherd (3-0) worked seven innings, allowing just two singles and one unearned run, walking two and striking out a career-high eight. It marked Shepherd’s second consecutive quality start and the third of his career.
“Everything seemed to be working,” Thomas said after catching Shepherd’s seven innings. “I liked how he was able to command his fastball. His secondary worked as the game went on. His cutter as well looked good in the later innings.”
He extended his streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to 16.2 innings, dating back to a start at Old Dominion. After allowing an unearned run to score on a two-out UK error, Shepherd retired seven straight from the third to the sixth innings.
“Shep is relaxed and able to make adjustments a little bit quicker,” Henderson said. “He lost his focus twice but was able to regain it. Chandler did a nice job today. He was able to find his cutter late. He had his curveball from the start and he utilized both sides of the plate. He had a strong day.”
On the year, Shepherd has a 3-0 record in four starts, working 26 innings, allowing 19 hits and six walks, striking out 21.