LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Max Kuhn belted a go-ahead three-run home run in the sixth inning and A.J. Reed smashed his third homer in as many games, leading No. 19 Kentucky to a 9-8 comeback win over No. 12 Florida to claim the series rubber match on a pleasant Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (22-10, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) found itself in a 3-2 hole entering the bottom of the sixth inning after the Gators took advantage of two UK errors that allowed three unearned runs to score for the lead. UK responded with a seven-run frame in the sixth to take the lead, fighting off a five-run Florida rally in the eighth inning to post the rubber-match win.
After routing SEC-leading Florida 17-1 in the series opener and then falling 11-10 in the middle game of the series, the Wildcats totaled 36 runs in the three-game weekend, marking their most runs scored in a series against the Gators in program history, shattering the previous mark of 32 runs scored in a 1999 series with Florida. It marked the most runs for UK in a three-game SEC series since the Wildcats scored 37 runs against South Carolina in 2006 and in 1995, with UK’s program record coming in 39 runs scored in 1993 vs. Vanderbilt.
“Well it was an unusual weekend there’s no doubt about that,” UK head coach Gary Henderson, who improved to 123-43 in his career at Cliff Hagan Stadium said. “With the bats that we have and be able to score as many runs as we did. And we gave up a few runs in the last two games clearly. That part is really unusual. I don’t think you are going to see that moving forward. I know I can’t predict the future, but that was very unusual. It’s great to beat the Gators at home. We’re four weekends down, 6-6 after playing some tough people. It doesn’t get easier for us, but we’ve had some good people behind us and it’s nice to be where we are considering where we were.”
Ranked as high as No. 12 as a consensus top-25 team, Florida entered the weekend with the Wildcats sporting a 2.94 ERA, holding opponents to a .244 average, and coming off a week that saw the Gators edge No. 1 Florida State and sweep No. 4 LSU. UK pounded out 50 hits in the three-game series, belted 15 extra-base hits – including seven homers – and owned a .471 on-base percentage, batting .410 and slugging .656.
The series win for the Wildcats was their second consecutive over the Gators, as UK won the rubber match in 2013 in Gainesville. UK’s series win over Florida in Lexington was its first since 2008.
Kentucky now has a 7-4 record against top-15 teams in 2014, including wins over top-ranked Virginia, No. 1 South Carolina, No. 5 Vanderbilt, No. 8 Louisville and No. 12 Florida. In UK head coach Gary Henderson’s career, the Wildcats have 43 wins over top-20 foes. In the midst of facing 10 of 11 opponents that are ranked, including seven straight, UK’s three straight SEC weekends facing top-15 teams marked just the third time in program history (with records dating back to 2003) the Wildcats faced such a challenge and the first time since 2006.
The Wildcats were paced at the plate by a 2-for-5 game from Kuhn, with the third baseman belting his fourth homer of the year and his second of the week.
“Max has improved a bunch,” Henderson said. “He didn’t get much time as a freshman, got better last year, and clearly right now is seeing it. That was obviously a huge hit he had in the sixth inning. It took the momentum and put it right in our dugout. He gives you good at bats and he’s making plays over at third. A couple plays today were tremendous. Max is a good teammate. Kids like him.”
Reed, the midseason national player of the year by Perfect Game USA, went 3-for-4 with a hit by pitch and his SEC-leading 12th homer of the year.
“He’s got my vote, no doubt,” Kuhn said about Reed’s historic season. “It’s unreal. Both sides. Whether he’s pitching, hitting, at first base, he does all well exceptionally well. Hitting, he is real fun to watch. He barrels everything up and doesn’t get fooled. Like I said, he’s got my vote and I’m sure he is going to have a ton of others.”
In 2014, Reed – a 6-foot-4, 240-pound two-way star – is hitting .377 with eight doubles, one triple, 12 homers and 39 RBI, slugging .781 and reaching base at a .507 clip. Over the four-game week, Reed hit .500 (8-for-16) with three doubles, three homers and six RBI, also working seven shutout innings on Friday night in the win.
“The last couple of weeks I have kind of been pressing a bit and trying to do a little bit too much,” Reed said. “I kind of went back to the approach of see the ball and hit it and try not to make early decisions and take what they are giving me. I think for the most part I did a really good job of that.”
On the mound, Reed has a 6-1 record and a 1.93 ERA in eight starts, working seven straight quality starts and owning wins over No. 1 Virginia, No. 1 South Carolina, No. 5 Vanderbilt and No. 12 Florida.
“I obviously didn’t have my good stuff,” Reed said about his start on Friday. “I really didn’t even throw that much off speed because I couldn’t find the zone. It was one of those things where I would get behind, but not give in and come back on hitters and attack them. When I was behind in the count, creating soft contact was what you have to do and I felt I did a good job of that.”
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed currently ranked tied for second in college baseball in homers and is the only player from a Bowl Championship Series conference with at least eight home runs.
“On the mound he provides stability and confidence,” Henderson said. “Even sometimes when he is not good early in the count, he is really confident when he gets deep and the team feeds off that. You feel like even if there are two runners on, they are still not going to score, and that’s A.J. and his presence and his ability to make pitches deep in the count. There’s not much I can say offensively. That kind of speaks for itself. You get a bat like that going in the middle of the order, everyone is aware, it is a game changer, a weekend changer.”
UK also got three-hit games from Kyle Barrett and Thomas Bernal, with freshman JaVon Shelby and catcher Micheal Thomas each charting two hits. Austin Cousino drove in a clutch two-out RBI, with UK getting hits from all nine starters. Matt Reida and Ka’ai Tom each singled in the game, with Tom also getting hit by a pitch.
Kentucky starter Andrew Nelson worked five strong innings, allowing five hits and one walk, striking out one. Nelson was charged with three unearned runs in his five innings, as the UK defense allowed two runs in the third and one run in the fifth on errors. Lefty Dylan Dwyer (3-1) came on to start the sixth inning, working 2.1 innings, allowing three hits and three runs, walking one and striking out three. Spencer Jack then came on in the eighth to try and get UK out of the jam, getting four outs, allowing three hits and two runs – coming on a three-run homer – striking out two. Sophomore Kyle Cody was called out of the bullpen to face cleanup hitter Taylor Gushue with two outs in the ninth inning, with Cody getting Gushue to ground out to end the game and earn his second save of the year.
Florida (20-12, 7-5 SEC) starter Kirby Snead worked 2.2 innings, allowing six hits and two runs, not issuing a walk and striking out one. Right-hander Justin Shafer came on in relief in the third inning, working 1.2 shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out one. Lefty Bobby Poyner (3-2) worked 1.1 innings, allowing four hits and five runs. Freshman Shaun Anderson worked 1.1 innings, allowing five hits and two runs. Karsten Whitson, a former first-round pick out of high school, came on to start the eighth inning, working around a Reed double in a shutout frame.
UK will return to action on Tuesday, hosting Morehead State at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Wildcats got on the board in the bottom of the second inning, as Barrett singled with one out, taking second after Bernal’s ninth hit this week. After Reida lined out, Shelby drilled a RBI single through the left side of the infield to score Barrett.
The Gators responded in the top of the third inning as John Sternagel singled to rightfield with two outs. Nelson then got a grounder up the middle, with the throw sailing into the dirt for a two-out error. Richie Martin followed with a line drive into shallow centerfield, with Cousino just missing an attempting diving catch, as the ball skidding off the grass to the outfield wall, allowing two runs to score.
The Wildcats evened up the game on the strength of Reed’s 12th home run of the year, a no-doubt blast over the rightfield fence, into the deck beyond right-centerfield.
Florida took advantage of another UK error to plate an unearned run in the top of the fifth inning. After Peter Alonso singled to lead off and was replaced by Buddy Reed at first on a fielder’s choice, UK got John Sternagel to hit a slow roller at shortstop that went under the glove for an error. After a fly out for the second out, Martin delivered an RBI single through the right side to give UF the lead.
Kentucky rallied to take the lead with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Bernal singled through the left side with two strikes and one out, with Reida following with a single down the leftfield line. Shelby replaced Reida at second on a fielder’s choice, with Cousino evening up the game with a two-out RBI single through the right side. That brought up Kuhn, who drilled a three-run, go-ahead homer over the left-centerfield fence for a 6-3 lead. Reed was then hit by a 2-0 pitch to bring up Thomas, who lofted a triple off the top of the 30-foot wall in rightfield, with Reed motoring all the way from first to score. Tom then scored Thomas with an RBI single to left-centerfield. Barrett, who led off the inning, then singled through the right side, with Tom taking third base and then scoring with a head-first slide after the ball skidded under the glove of the rightfielder.
“I was just feeling good and looking for something to hit,” Kuhn said. “The guy left a slider hanging out over the plate. He had already thrown me a couple and I just picked it up fast and put a good swing on it.”
Florida mounted a rally in the top of the eighth inning, as Martin and Harrison Bader led off with singles and Taylor Gushue followed with an RBI single. Braden Mattson then hung a sac fly to rightfield to score Bader and cut the UK lead to 9-5. UK then turned to Jack, who faced pinch-hitter A.J. Puk, who singled through the right side. Alonso followed with a three-run homer over the right-centerfield fence, making it a 9-8 game.